If you heard there were faraway islands full of hyperintelligent birds, you would be forgiven for assuming that they must be parrots or crows — the superstars of the brainy bird world. But travel to the Falkland Islands near the Argentine coast, and you’ll find not parrots or crows but freakishly smart falcons called striated caracaras.
“I kind of had a hunch that there is something special about these birds,” said Katie Harrington, a behavioral ecologist at the University of Veterinary Medicine Vienna.
By adapting a series of tests originally designed to assess cockatoo cognition, Ms. Harrington found that the caracaras can problem-solve as well as parrots. The results were published Monday in the journal Current Biology.
Ms. Harrington leads the Johnny Rook Project, an effort to study the Falkland falcons that got its name from the birds’ local nickname. To compare the caracaras with other brainy birds, she adapted eight tasks from a prior experiment that studied innovative problem-solving in Goffin’s cockatoos.
Of the 15 Johnny rooks that Ms. Harrington tested, all solved at least one puzzle, and 10 of them figured out all eight — without any prior training.