Red-and-green macaw couple at their nest in Brazil

This 12 February 2019 video shows a red-and-green macaw couple at their nest in Mato Grosso do Sul in Brazil.


Blue-fronted Amazon parrot genome studied

This 2015 video shows a blue-fronted parrot, Amazona aestiva, eating guaritá, Astronium graveolens, flowers in Mato Grosso do Sul in Brazil.

From Carnegie Mellon University in the USA:

Parrot genome analysis reveals insights into longevity, cognition

Genome of blue-fronted Amazon parrot compared with 30 other long-lived birds

December 6, 2018

Parrots are famously talkative, and a blue-fronted Amazon parrot named Moises — or at least its genome — is telling scientists volumes about the longevity and highly developed cognitive abilities that give parrots so much in common with humans. Perhaps someday, it will also provide clues about how parrots learn to vocalize so well.

Morgan Wirthlin, a BrainHub post-doctoral fellow in Carnegie Mellon University’s Computational Biology Department and first author of a report to appear in the Dec. 17 issue of the journal Current Biology, said she and her colleagues sequenced the genome of the blue-fronted Amazon and used it to perform the first comparative study of parrot genomes.

By comparing the blue-fronted Amazon with 30 other long- and short-lived birds — including four additional parrot species — she and colleagues at Oregon Health and Science University (OHSU), the Federal University of Rio de Janeiro and other entities identified a suite of genes previously not known to play a role in longevity that deserve further study. They also identified genes associated with longevity in fruit flies and worms.

“In many cases, this is the first time we’ve connected those genes to longevity in vertebrates,” she said.

Wirthlin, who began the study while a Ph.D. student in behavioral neuroscience at OHSU, said parrots are known to live up to 90 years in captivity — a lifespan that would be equivalent to hundreds of years for humans. The genes associated with longevity include telomerase, responsible for DNA repair of telomeres (the ends of chromosomes), which are known to shorten with age. Changes in these DNA repair genes can potentially turn cells malignant. The researchers have found evidence that changes in the DNA repair genes of long-lived birds appear to be balanced with changes in genes that control cell proliferation and cancer.

The researchers also discovered changes in gene-regulating regions of the genome — which seem to be parrot-specific — that were situated near genes associated with neural development. Those same genes are also linked with cognitive abilities in humans, suggesting that both humans and parrots evolved similar methods for developing higher cognitive abilities.

“Unfortunately, we didn’t find as many speech-related changes as I had hoped,” said Wirthlin, whose research is focused on the evolution of vocal behaviors, including speech. Animals that learn songs or speech are relatively rare — parrots, hummingbirds, songbirds, whales, dolphins, seals and bats — which makes them particularly interesting to scientists, such as Wirthlin, who hope to gain a better understanding of how humans evolved this capacity.

“If you’re just analyzing genes, you hit the end of the road pretty quickly,” she said. That’s because learned speech behaviors are thought be more of a function of gene regulation than of changes in genes themselves. Doing comparative studies of these “non-coding” regulatory regions, she added, is difficult, but she and Andreas Pfenning, assistant professor of computational biology, are working on the computational and experimental techniques that may someday reveal more of their secrets.

This work was supported through the Brazilian Avian Genome Consortium and by the National Institutes of Health/National Institute on Deafness and Other Communication Disorders.

Goffin’s cockatoos making tools, new study

This 7 November 2018 video says about itself:

Goffin’s cockatoos create and use cardboard tools

Goffin’s cockatoos (Cacatua goffiniana) adjust the lengths but not the widths of their tools, according to a study published in the open-access journal PLOS ONE.

Goffin’s cockatoos can tear cardboard into long strips as tools to reach food, but fail to adjust strip width to fit through narrow openings.

Credits: Goffin Lab, University of Veterinary Medicine Vienna.

From PLOS:

Goffin’s cockatoos can create and manipulate novel tools

Cockatoos adjust length, but not width, when making their cardboard tools

November 7, 2018

Goffin’s cockatoos can tear cardboard into long strips as tools to reach food — but fail to adjust strip width to fit through narrow openings, according to a study published November 7, 2018 in the open-access journal PLOS ONE by A.M.I. Auersperg from the Medical University of Vienna, Austria, and colleagues.

The Goffin’s cockatoo (Cacatua goffiniana) is a type of parrot. Captive Goffins are capable of inventing and manipulating tools, even though they aren’t known to use tools habitually. The authors of the present study investigated two questions: do Goffins adjust tool properties to save effort, and if so, how accurately can they adjust tool dimensions for the task? The authors supplied six adult cockatoos with large cardboard sheets to tear into strips as tools for the testing apparatus: a food platform with a food reward set at varying distances (4-16cm) behind a small opening which also varied in width (1-2cm).

They found that the Goffins were capable of adjusting the length of their cardboard strip tools to account for variations in food distance, making shorter tools when the reward was closer than when it was set farther away. In every case, if a first-attempt tool was too short, the second-attempt tool would be significantly longer. On average, all six birds made significantly longer tools than were required to reach the reward in all test conditions, with the birds tending to make increasingly long tools as the study progressed — perhaps as a risk-avoidance strategy.

However, only one bird was able to make a sufficiently-narrow tool to successfully reach the food reward when the opening was at its narrowest. The authors hypothesize that the shearing technique the birds use to tear the cardboard limits the narrowness of the resulting strips. The authors suggest that future studies provide less restrictive materials to assess whether Goffins are cognitively capable of adjusting tool width in this situation.

Alice Auersperg adds: “The way they inserted and discarded manufactured pieces of specific lengths differently depending on condition suggests that the cockatoos could indeed adjust their tool making behavior in the predicted direction but with some limits in accuracy.”