Brains versus brawn: Study finds there's more to the Noisy Miner than just being a backyard bully

Dec 08, 2009

(PhysOrg.com) -- Some consider the Noisy Miner bird a badly-behaved backyard bully - an avian aggressor that moves into the neighbourhood and quickly takes over.

Others, like Macquarie University PhD student Danielle Sulikowski who has been researching the foraging behaviour and memory abilities of the Noisy Miner, have developed an admiration for these feisty, feathered bad boys of the backyard.

Sulikowski, who works in the University’s Department of Brain, Behaviour, and Evolution, said Noisy Miners may be getting a bad rap because they are not only adaptable, but smart.

“They are generalists rather than specialists, feeding on a bunch of different food sources, and in the being a generalist makes you flexible and clever. So when humans come along and interfere with the environment, we change the rules of survival. But Noisy Miners adapt and learn the new rules,” she said.

Sulikowski describes Noisy Miners as brave and aggressive . When teamed with smart, that means that other more specialised birds just can’t compete, she said.

They are native to Australia but are not related to another similarly-named and vocal neighbour, the introduced Indian Mynah bird. With mostly grey bodies and black crowns and cheeks, Noisy Miners live in groups and, are strongly territorial excluding other, mostly smaller birds.

Until people came along their wasn’t such a problem because they thrive in an edge habitat - at the edge of areas of bush. Now that humans have fragmented the bush in urban areas, Noisy Miners are moving in and taking over, attracted to the diverse array of large-flowered plants with abundant nectar found in many suburban backyards.

In studying the foraging behaviour and memory of the miner birds, Sulikowski found the birds changed their , and what they remembered, depending on the type of food they were looking for.

“With insects, their searching is based on movement patterns, whereas with from flowers there’s no overall pattern to their movement, but they still know exactly which flowers they’ve been to and which ones they haven’t,” she said.

Sulikowski notes that the Noisy Miner’s brain has evolved to deal with some diverse foraging problems which require them to process the same information in very different ways, depending on what food they’re searching for. Understanding how their brains achieve this flexibility is important for understanding how intelligence, generally, evolves, she said.

"I think it’s great that this innocuous little garden bird is teaching us about the of the brain,” she said.

Sulikowski, who recently presented her findings on the Noisy Miner at the General Meeting of the Royal Society of NSW, also received a scholarship from the group which will help her to continue research into the Noisy Miner.

Provided by Macquarie University

Explore further: The influence of the Isthmus of Panama in the evolution of freshwater shrimps in America

add to favorites email to friend print save as pdf

Related Stories

Scientist exposes threat to backyard bird diversity

Oct 29, 2007

A leading environmental scientist from the University of Western Sydney has revealed that parrots commonly thought of as native to Sydney, are in fact invaders from inland areas of Australia, and their growing presence is ...

Cities change the songs of birds

Dec 04, 2006

By studying the songs of a bird species that has succeeded in adapting to urban life, researchers have gained insight into the kinds of environmental pressures that influence where particular songbirds thrive, and the specific ...

Bizarre bird behavior predicted by game theory

Feb 25, 2009

A team of scientists, led by the University of Exeter, has used game theory to explain the bizarre behaviour of a group of ravens. Juvenile birds from a roost in North Wales have been observed adopting the ...

Left brain helps hear through the noise

Nov 15, 2007

Our brain is very good at picking up speech even in a noisy room, an adaptation essential for holding a conversation at a cocktail party, and now we are beginning to understand the neural interactions that underlie this ability. ...

Recommended for you

Dogs hear our words and how we say them

19 hours ago

When people hear another person talking to them, they respond not only to what is being said—those consonants and vowels strung together into words and sentences—but also to other features of that speech—the ...

Amazonian shrimps: An underwater world still unknown

20 hours ago

A study reveals how little we know about the Amazonian diversity. Aiming to resolve a scientific debate about the validity of two species of freshwater shrimp described in the first half of the last century, ...

Factors that drive sexual traits

21 hours ago

Many male animals have multiple displays and behaviours to attract females; and often the larger or greater the better.

User comments : 1

Adjust slider to filter visible comments by rank

Display comments: newest first

freddy
not rated yet Dec 08, 2009
A non-birding workmate has told me that these birds are known as "Bandits" where he comes from, in the South Australian Riverland: they wear a black mask, and are quite fearless.

Please sign in to add a comment. Registration is free, and takes less than a minute. Read more

Click here to reset your password.
Sign in to get notified via email when new comments are made.