Research at the UNL Center for Avian
Cognition includes a range of field and laboratory studies on parrots and corvids. Our
research programs combine psychological and biological perspectives to explore cognitive mechanisms
that are molded by evolution in response to particular ecological demands.
on visual search and attention examined the effects of target and
background appearance on the foraging strategies of blue jays. We
then tested the consequences of these mechanisms for the evolution
of the appearance of their prey. Blue jays commonly feed on cryptically
colored moths that rest concealed on tree trunks during the daytime.
We have emulated this system in the laboratory using genetic algorithms
to specify the phenotypes of virtual moths, which are presented on
a variety of different backgrounds. These experiments have shed light
on a number of evolutionary questions, such as the origin of polymorphism
in cryptic prey, that were otherwise inaccessible to direct test.
A second program has explored spatial cognition
in Clark's nutcrackers and other seed-caching corvids, with an emphasis on the cognitive mechanisms used
in inferring spatial location from the configuration of surrounding landmarks.
We have conducted an extensive series of
field observations to explore the adaptive significance of behavioral flexibility in New Zealand parrots,
particularly as it relates to the function of social play and vocal imitation.
research program consists of comparative operant and observational
studies of related corvid species to explore cognitive mechanisms
associated with complex sociality, including transitive social inference,
deception in seed caching, and the neurobiology of species differences
in cognitive representations.