Scientists spent more than six months developing harnesses that are impossible to remove. These magpies took 20 minutes to learn to take them off

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“The weird thing is not meeting people dumber than an Australian magpie, the weird thing is meeting someone smarter.” The first time I heard about corvids was in the Faculty of Sciences of the University of Granada and it was like that, with that phrase. Since then, whenever I hear about these southern creatures, I remember that ornithologist ranting about half of humanity. Today it also happened to me and, moreover, to prove him right.


plus six months of work. For more than six months, a team from the College of the Sunshine Coast in Australia devoted all his efforts to develop harnesses for magpies that were impossible to remove. His idea was to use them to study their social habits. Therefore, they needed to be able to transport the necessary devices for the study, but for the design to be as unobtrusive as possible.

A very clever beast. Although it sounds like a punk-primitivist team, the social habits of the Australian magpies are interesting because, indeed, they are very smart animals. One of the most intelligent birds in the world: it can be put as an example, that they can remember up to 30 different human faces (something that, here among us, I could hardly do with their species); but there are many more things that powerfully attract attention. These included prosociality and, as the researchers were about to discover, mischief.

The magpie vs the man. In 2019, Potvin and his team from the College of the Sunshine Coast They came up with the perfect design. They selected a group of birds, confirmed that with the harness on they did not show any signs of distress and, after putting on all the harnesses, they returned home.

In just 20 minutes, the magpies had figured out how to take it from each other. After three days, all five had already been removed. The face of fools that (as they themselves admit) remained with them was anthological. So they began to investigate to see how it had been possible.

Never underestimate a magpie. Usually, ornithologists don’t take these things into account because birds don’t usually have “altruistic rescue habits”; that is, they do not usually help each other unless they receive some tangible advantage for it. Why would they take away from each other something that didn’t bother them at all?

Big mistake. After examining them again (and with another group of animals) they realized that they did. No matter how convoluted the device was, they managed to disassemble it. What’s more, it almost seemed like a hobby. A pastime that is now forming the wide ethological repertoire of these birds capable of having memories of up to 15 years. The question, I imagine, is what else they can do.

Image | Fir0002

“The weird thing is not meeting people dumber than an Australian magpie, the weird thing is meeting someone smarter.” The…

“The weird thing is not meeting people dumber than an Australian magpie, the weird thing is meeting someone smarter.” The…

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