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Striated caracara's puzzle-solving matches that of clever cockatoos

By David Stock

A team of researchers, led by Katie Harrington at the University of Veterinary Medicine Vienna, has studied the puzzle-solving abilities of striated caracaras on the Falkland Islands. The habitat of these birds is isolated, surrounded by ocean and strong winds, which the researchers believe has led the caracaras to adopt innovative ways to find food. “Striated caracaras have to be really exploratory, constantly examining new situations in their environment to find out what works for them,” says Harrington. “It takes a certain creative bravery to make life work on the Falklands.”

The team members set up a box with eight puzzles, each offering a food reward. Each day, the birds explored the puzzles, learning how to solve them and eventually getting quicker at the tasks. When compared with Goffin’s cockatoo, a bird known for its intelligence, puzzle-solving skills and use of tools, the caracara’s ability was similar.

Much of what we know about avian intelligence comes from parrots and corvids, not falcons like the caracara. This research suggests that inhabiting a variable environment with unpredictable resources could encourage the mental flexibility necessary to solve new problems.