Following the amazing discoveries in the capabilities of birds, it appears Antarctic brown skuas can recognize and distinguish humans who approach them and their nests. A recent study has found that the seabirds only need to see an individual a few times before they can properly identify him or her.
After the latest finding on the intelligence of Barbados bullfinches and the well-known smartness of crows, the time has come for brown skuas to show us what they are capable of. These Antarctic birds, otherwise known as Stercorarius antarcticus, do not often interact with humans in their frozen lands they make their homes.
A team of researchers from the Polar Research Institute of Korea that were studying the breeding habits seabirds had noticed that the creatures seemed to act differently when they met individuals. According to Won Young Lee, co-author of the study, the skuas showed amazing capabilities in recognizing humans after only three or four visits, in spite of the fact they lived all their lives in a habit that does not include human beings. This also points towards their impressive cognitive abilities.
The study was initially focused on the eggs and nests of brown skuas. However, when the scientists got a bit too close to the homes of the seabirds, they were attacked by them. Even when the humans changed their appearance, the reaction of the creatures was the same. Yeong-Deok Han, a PhD student, has further explained that
“When I was with other researchers, the birds flew over me and tried to hit me. Even when I changed my field clothes, they followed me. The birds seemed to know me no matter what I wear.”
In more details, when one member of the team who had previously approached the birds return with someone unknown to them, all breeding pair attacked the person they knew and ignored the stranger. This happened despite the two researchers having the same attitude.
It seems brown skuas identify humans and other intruders by visual traits. The team believes they were capable of learning this in two ways. The first is that they are naturally highly intelligent. This is supported by the fact that other birds species from the area could not discriminate between neutral humans and invaders.
The second theory is that they learned to defend themselves against us by having repeated contact with humans during their lifetimes. This could be possible since the place where the study was conducted, King George’s Island, has no less than eleven Antarctic stations. Furthermore, the King Sejong Station of South Korea received between sixty and eighty researchers each summer.
The findings were published this month in the Animal Cognition journal.
Image Source: Greg Lasley