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Waterbird solves the cognitive string-pull test


Lamarre, Jessika; Wilson, David (2021), Waterbird solves the cognitive string-pull test, Dryad, Dataset,


String-pulling is amongst the most widespread cognitive tasks used to test problem-solving skills in mammals and birds. The task requires animals to comprehend that pulling on a non-valuable string moves an otherwise inaccessible food reward to within their reach. Although at least 90 avian species have been administered the string-pull test, all but five of them were perching birds (passeriformes) or parrots (psittaciformes). Waterbirds (Aequorlitornithes) are poorly represented in the cognitive literature, yet are known to engage in complex foraging behaviours. In this study, we tested whether free-living ring-billed gulls (Larus delawarensis), a species known for their behavioural flexibility and foraging innovativeness, could solve a horizontal string-pull test. Here, we show that 25% (26/104) of the ring-billed gulls that attempted to solve the test at least once over a maximum of three trials were successful, and that 21% of them (22/104) succeeded during their first attempt. Ring-billed gulls are thus the first waterbird known to solve a horizontal single-string-rewarded string-pull test. Since innovation rate and problem-solving are associated with species’ ability to endure environmental alterations, we suggest that testing the problem-solving skills of other species facing environmental challenges will inform us of their vulnerability in a rapidly changing world.


Natural Sciences and Engineering Research Council of Canada, Award: RGPIN-2015-03769

Natural Sciences and Engineering Research Council of Canada, Award: CGS-M