Can birds learn?
Now you can officially accuse me of bring my nature studies into the office!! It started two summers ago when I placed a hummingbird feeder just outside my office window. Quickly these little green birdies started dazzling everyone by there charm and beauty. You never knew when someone was just outside my window taking pictures or video taping the 10 or so hummingbirds fighting for that perfect perch. Ultimately good things always come to an end and this happened when the hummingbirds decided to make their migration south for the winter.
I found myself with a desire to bring nature back to the office again. Sunflower seeds were an excellent tool for inviting these birds back to my office and keeping me entertained. Birds like the Black-capped Chickadee, American Goldfinch, White-breasted Nuthatch, Red-breasted Nuthatch, Tufted Titmouse and Dark Eyed Junco are now regular visitors of mine. But, who would have expected birds like the Pine Siskin, Downy Woodpecker or even the Purple Finch to make numerous occurrences in my office window! Last year I even had friends from Buffalo make the hour trip south for the “possibility” of seeing an Evening Grosbeaks in my office window!!
You wonder how these unusual visitors are able to learn where I have placed a small pile of sunflower seeds in an unusual location like a window frame on the 2nd floor? Well, those nosy chickadees arrived within the first day and probably were investigating the disappearance of the hummingbird feeders (they must have known that this was a bird friendly window). Other species started visiting the window after learning that somewhere these chickadees were getting sunflower seeds. The learning process didn’t stop here; believe me when I tell you it continues.
Towards the end of the season last year I started to hear some knocking sounds. I turned around and found this White-breasted Nuthatch doing something that I have never seen before.
The nuthatch would grab a seed and bring it over to the edge of the window. Then it would place it between the metal frame and wooded base of the window and …..
put its full body into cracking open the seed!!
After a few hits the nuthatch would pull the seed out and continue the process all over again (or until the bird got sick of having my face 2 feet from the window watching)! If the seed fell out, the nuthatch would drop instantly down (see its position) to catch the seed in mid air!!
Now, I would call this very clever of this nuthatch to have figured out how to crack open these seeds. Quickly those nosy chickadees learned that this nuthatch would leave leftovers in the frame which were already shelled from the seed. Soon those curious chickadee were also giving the window thing a try.
This year for the first time the Downy Woodpeckers started visiting the window!! Not one but I have identified three different individuals coming to my window (how do I know three?? One female was banded by me, another female is bandless and there is a bandless male coming around)!!
As you probably expected, these Downy Woodpeckers have also learned how to crack open their seeds from their “birding” piers!! I can’t help but visualizing that these birds had to sit in a class room (taught by the ovenbird) on “how to crack open a seed in Tom’s window”!! So, learning is something done by not only humans but by birds also! I would love to hear how others have noticed birds learning!!