Communication and Cognition in Kea

Communication and Cognition in Kea

In this project we seek to investigate kea cleverness using field-based methods and in the absence of anthropocentric assumptions that often affect the design of lab-based cognition studies. Lab-based cognition studies on kea consistently find that these animals are unusually intelligent, but similar studies in the field fail to replicate these results- perhaps as a consequence of experiments not actually testing kea cognitive ability as expressed in nature. Many clever animals use complex forms of communication in social groups. Previous work has suggested that the vocal repertoire of kea is rather limited. In this study we are characterising the vocalisations of kea, determining their biological significance through playback studies, and exploring whether kea use different calls depending on the acoustic characteristics of the habitat in which they are calling.

Results so far are promising, with over a dozen different calls tentatively identified, some of which are only produced by animals of certain age groups. Insight from this work may provide us with appropriate methodology with which to explore the true cognitive capacity of these charismatic birds.