tisdag 17 november 2015

Students from Animal cognition course

Last Friday 20 students from the course in Animal Cognition visited the station. The course is given every second year and earns 7,5 credits.

"The course introduces important aspects of the zoological study of cognition, i.e. knowledge and research about other biological information- and knowledge systems than humans, in particular nonhuman primates and corvids. The course also discusses what can be learnt by comparing the cognition of different species and the common pitfalls in conclusions that this can entail."

To give the students some insight in empirical research and field work, they can either visit LU Primate Research Station in Furuvik, or the Corvid Cognition Station.

Here, Mathias gave an introductory lecture on why we study corvid cognition, and Can and Katarzyna presented their research. Some of the students met the ravens, who seemed content with the visitors.


måndag 16 november 2015

New paper on animal future‐oriented cognition

Last week WIREs Cognitive Science published an opinion piece by Mathias Osvath,  trying to sort out "the theoretical and terminological muddle" framing the ongoing debate on animal future- oriented cognition. Many researchers still remain convinced that no species other than human beings is able to anticipate future needs or otherwise live in anything other than the immediate present moment. However, rather than being based on empirical data, Osvath argues that this conviction might be the consequence of "largely unquestioned theoretical divides": therefore, putting animal prospection research into the context of evolution and contemporary cognitive science is of utmost importance for the future of this field.

The abstract of the paper: "Putting flexible animal prospection into context: escaping the theoretical box" can be found HERE. Please contact our research group if you are interested in the full pdf.


tisdag 6 oktober 2015

Colourful research

Even though experimental setups must be correct and carried out with strict control, it doesn't mean that they have to be dull and grey.
This is what it looked like yesterday, when Ivo was trying out new material for his upcoming study on "disjunctive syllogisms".


onsdag 9 september 2015


For everyone working with animals it is no secret that you need lots of time, patience and inventiveness. Often it is details that you did not even think of, that causes the biggest problems when you want to work with the animals. For crow birds it usually is the"neuphopia" that slow things down - the fear of unfamiliar things. It could be new objects, new people, familiar people with unfamiliar clothes - but also different parts of the aviary which suddenly (from the human perspective) becomes scary, mayby due to shifting shadows, the wind, or maybe due to details that our human senses do not even percieve.

For one of the experiments performed at the moment, an apparatus is mounted on a wooden box to make the apparatus stay in place while the raven is operating it. For some reason, Siden is afraid of the box, even though it has been there since that particular part of the aviary was built. The other ravens are absolutely fine with it and we havn't yet figured out what causes his fear.
However, to try a different approach I introduced a new base for the apparatus yesterday. A big heavy log with a flat surface - new to the ravens but still alike many other wooden items in the aviaries - but placed slightly different from the box.

This picture might not seem much to the world, but today Siden dared to eat from the log - even with one leg on it! I didn't want to spoil the moment, though, by taking out another scary thing - my mobile phone, so the picture is without ravens. Hopefully he will accept the log within shortly and jump up and down on it like his spouse Juno - but time will tell.

Today there was also some other progress in training one of the young females - Tosta. She is the only one of our ravens that still don't know how to exchange items with us humans. Exchanges is something that is often used as part of different experiments, and our other young female, Embla learnt it before summer. Until now Tosta has been touching an item with her beak to get a reward, but she hasn't been sure about the next step - to push the item towards me so it falls down in my hand. But today she was, and happily filled her pouch with rewards!

Tosta in the background with a full pouch.

Eventually she should be able to get the item from somewhere in the aviary and hand it to me for a reward, but I expect that step to take some more time. So for now I'm happy with this, and Siden's foot on the log.


torsdag 27 augusti 2015

New PhD-student

The Cognitive Zoology Group grows, and we are happy to welcome our third PhD-student - Katarzyna Bobrowicz! Katarzyna comes from University of Warsaw, Poland and has already moved to Sweden with her family. Karzyna will be working in the project "The social intelligence hypothesis and the episodic memory system – the role of memories in the social skills of cognitively complex animals". More about our research projects here!

Here, a brief greeting from Katarzyna:

"Hi there, I love working with animals and that's why I am very excited to join the Cognitive Zoology Group. I am mainly concerned with memory and self-recognition as I consider them important for our approach to non-verbal creatures in our everyday life, and also for a much simpler reason - it's really absorbing :)".

New semester

Summer is over, the juvenile ravens have all moved and things are going back to normal again in the aviaries. At the moment we are preparing for the new semester by repairing and maintaining the station.
During summer the weed grows to almost biblical proportions. And as we don't want to use pesticides or machines inside the aviaries, the weeding has to be done by hand.

The ravens also appreciate more open ground, so they are happy with the change. To make them even more happy I built sandboxes in both aviaries and the famous crow bird neuphobia (= fear of new things) was quickly defeated by their curiousity and passion for digging.

Rickard, None and Embla.

A nice place for caching food, however not the most secret one.

Juno - a bit afraid of the camera, though.
Next week, the whole research group will be back after summer, and we will start the new semester with the usual get-toghether.


lördag 23 maj 2015


Rickard and None's first fledged. Almost 6 weeks old.
I guess fledging is not that dramatic when you can easily climb back to your nest again. Nevertheless, yesterday (May 22nd) two of Rickard and None's chicks fledged and spent their first night out of the nest.

Three still to go.

I witnessed the fledgeling take its first sip of water from the tub, but it only took one shot before None and her wary look was between her chick and the camera.

Siden and Juno's chicks are a few days older than the ones next door, but maybe the hight of their nest makes them less daring. At least I would like to be sure that I could trust my wings before I dared the jump.

One of the chicks testing a branch.
However, at the feeding this morning one of Siden and Juno's chicks had also fledged and was walking around on the ground - curiously exploring the new surroundings.


måndag 18 maj 2015

First steps

Rickard and None's nesting spot that at first seemed a bit awkward,  might not be so bad after all. The flat surface under the nest is quite spacious, and the chicks have started to take short walks outside the nest!
Baby raven walk, around day 36
We don't expect them to fledge until next week or so, and their way to full-fledged fledgelings might be a bit easier than Siden and Juno's first broods'. I wouldn't be surprised if I one morning find them all sitting on the board below the experiment room, and then they will only have 1, 5 metre to the ground. A small distance compared to wild ravens, that usually nest in very tall trees or on inaccessible cliffs.

The situation for Siden and Juno's nestlings has also improved with the new nestbox. Not only do they have more room for flight training and walking on the bottom of the nestbox, but also some branches outside the nest, to practice branch-sitting and prepare for the first trembling flight.

The family of seven chilling after lunch


måndag 11 maj 2015

Dirty work

Around 29 days old, with open beaks to keep cool.
Even though the chicks are now big enough to lift their rear ends over the nest's edge and poo outside, the parents still tidy away feacal residue to keep the chicks as clean as possible. Normally the plumage of a healthy adult ravens in speckless, so the somewhat dusty appearance and white beaks of the parents is a rare sight. But not for long, though. Two to three weeks from now, the fledging should begin.

Juno, tearing off pieces of meat for her young.
None, approaching me to see if I bring any treats.

fredag 8 maj 2015

Visiting biology students

In April/May the annual student visit from the course in Ecology of behaviour/ethology at the Biology Department is scheduled. As it coincides with the breeding season, the timing couldn't be worse, and it's a pity that the student's are not able to observe the ravens' everyday life in the aviaries. This year we managed to postphone the visit a few weeks to not disturb the delicate incubation period, and yesterday two groups of students arrived. Thanks to Kungliga Fysiografiska sällskapet, we now have a brand new lecture hall, and we started off with an introduction of the research conducted here.

Can presenting his project on planning.
Ivo telling the students about his work on physical cognition.

We were a bit unsure of how the ravens would react, and the students got strict instructions to not go near the nests, but the raven parents were happy as long as the students stayed outside the aviaries on the opposite side of the nests.

Blog post 2014.
Blog post 2013.


torsdag 30 april 2015

Day 18

It is Day 18 for Rickard and None's chicks and maybe the end of close-ups.
Sharp alarm calls fill my ears as I enter the experiment room with my camera.

Quickly I fire off a few shots, since I have already stirred the parents.

I try a different, safer view - and yes - the chicks have now grown so big that they are visible from outside the aviary.

Siden and Juno have been happy without my camera, and this is as close as I can get. Well, that is not entirely true. When I built their new nestbox, I put a plexi glass in the ceiling, and the ladder is still up...but I am not going to try.


torsdag 23 april 2015

Day 12

It is day 12 and the chicks have already started to open little slanted eyes. One cannot help but marvle at the astonishing growth rate.

Out of six eggs, five hatched, or maybe one chick didn't survive the fierce competition.

It is a pity that I have to press the camera button blindly, but the nest is too far up for me to be able to see what I am aming at. And I need to be quick. The parents do not approve of me coming too close - let alone the black enemy in my hands - and Rickard has already started to fluff and make short, sharp alarm calls.

So I retreat to my corner by the door, and None comes up to fill her pouch. Still wary.


måndag 20 april 2015

Food preferences

Every year, it's exciting to witness the feedings of the chicks. And this year I can even watch without binoculars. As I have blogged about before - the small chicks only get high value protein - preferably red meat, chicken, shrimps and eggs. Pork is ignored and also minced meat from ox - mayby they judge by the colour? For the parent's sake we also give some of the usaul stuff, like vitaminized dog kibble and leftovers from our dinners, and as the chicks grow older they get a wider variety of food.

So most of the time, we just hand over big chunks of meat, half chickens and eggs and let the parents do the work. But one manmade thing they DO like is this cottage-cheese-mix.

The cottage cheese is low in fat and rich in proteins, and I add a few eggs, crushed egg shells and some vitamins. Like a parent trying to sneak unwanted wholesome veggies into the food, I also add some grated apple. This is something we learned on a course in wildlife rehabilitation - apple is a good substitute for vitamins for most animals.
I believe that the ravens make the best choices for their young, but it makes me happy to watch the parents efortless scoop up the mixture in their beaks and pouches and fly off to feed their nestlings - without the tiresome job of tearing to pieces or adding saliva and water.

And it looks a bit like ris á la Malta with saffron, doesn't it?


fredag 17 april 2015

New paper on causal intervention in corvids

Ivo Jacobs et al. has just published "Corvids create novel causal interventions after all" in Proceedings of the Royal Society B. The paper is a comment on Taylor et al. who recently investigated whether New Caledonian crows make causal interventions in comparison to 2-year-old children, and concluded that New Caledonian crows cannot make causal interventions, whereas most children can. Taylor et al. also question previous work that claim the existence of causal interventions in corvids.

The new paper is a joint comment by researchers from Lund University, Max Planck Institute for Ornithology, University of Oxford and Newcastle University, and is highly critical of Taylor et al.'s conclusions. Both of the study itself and the analysis of previous work on causal intervention in corvids. Jacobs et al. methodically reviews previous studies and conclude that corvids do create novel causal interventions after all.


måndag 13 april 2015


Three raven chicks (around 1 day old)
It seemed as a bit of a shock to all three of us, Rickard, None and me. But there it was, a tiny, pink lump of life - early yesterday morning. By the evening there were two, and this morning three - and still three eggs to go. Beautiful, turquoise eggs, sheltering theese little helpless creatures, that only in a few weeks will have grown almost as big as their parents.

I was a bit worried that the first-time-parents shouldn't get the feeding right - and still it is to early to know. But two of the small chicks have already survived their first night, and it is amazing to witness None gently feed her young. I am grateful that she allows us, so I will not overdo the photographing.