ORNITHOLOGY

Social complexity creates brainy parrots

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Science  26 Sep 2014:
Vol. 345, Issue 6204, pp. 1575
DOI: 10.1126/science.345.6204.1575-f

Monk parakeets' relationships are key to their smarts.

PHOTO: © LÉLIA VALDUGA/ALAMY

A complex social world of shifting alliances and competitors may be key to the evolution of large brains in humans, dolphins, and spotted hyenas – and, researchers now say, parrots. Hobson et al. observed wild populations of monk parakeets (Myiopsitta monachus) in Argentina and captive ones in Florida, finding that the parakeets prefer to spend time with one individual, usually a mate. Captive birds had strong associations with one or two individuals and numerous moderate relationships; their aggressive interactions also suggest a dominance hierarchy of winners and losers. Those layers of relationships require the birds to recognize and remember others—tasks linked to the evolution of cognitive skills.

Auk. 10.1642/AUK-14-14.1 (2014)

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