OPEN PloS one | 18 Aug 2016
JN Audet, S Ducatez and L Lefebvre
String-pulling is one of the most popular tests in animal cognition because of its apparent complexity, and of its potential to be applied to very different taxa. In birds, the basic procedure involves a food reward, suspended from a perch by a string, which can be reached by a series of coordinated pulling actions with the beak and holding actions of the pulled lengths of string with the foot. The taxonomic distribution of species that pass the test includes several corvids, parrots and parids, but in other families, data are much spottier and the number of individuals per species that succeed is often low. To date, the association between string-pulling ability and other cognitive traits was never tested. It is generally assumed that string-pulling is a complex form of problem-solving, suggesting that performance on string-pulling and other problem-solving tasks should be correlated. Here, we show that individuals of two innovative species from Barbados, the bullfinch Loxigilla barbadensis and the Carib grackle Quiscalus lugubris fortirostris, pass the string-pulling test. Eighteen of the 42 bullfinches tested succeeded, allowing us to correlate performance on this test to that on several other behavioral measurements. Surprisingly, string-pulling in bullfinches was unrelated to shyness, neophobia, problem-solving, discrimination and reversal learning performance. Only two of 31 grackles tested succeeded, precluding correlational analyses with other measures but still, the two successful birds largely differed in their other behavioral traits.
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