Bird brain? Here’s something to crow about
“Bird brain” is not a complimentary term. But maybe it should be. In their new book “Gifts of the Crow” (Free Press), wildlife researcher John Marzluff and naturalist Tony Angell examine the surprisingly high IQs of the corvid family of birds, which includes crows, ravens and jays.
How smart are they? Marzluff and Angell document crows in New Caledonia that use such foreign objects as wires to fashion hooks that help them snag unreachable food.
In another chapter, they subject crows to a three-step intelligence test that involves fetching a small tool to retrieve a long tool, which can then be used to access a treat. The crows pass.
The authors find many humanlike behaviors in crows: taking risks, teasing other animals for fun, even leaving gifts for humans who feed them. “Corvids assume characteristics that were once ascribed only to humans, including self-recognition, insight, revenge, tool use, mental time travel, deceit, murder, language, play, calculated risk taking, social learning, and traditions,” write Marzluff and Angell. Washington Post
What can happen when solar winds reach Earth
Timothy Ferris writes in the June issue of National Geographic about solar flares, which occur when loops of magnetic force on the surface of the sun intersect and essentially short-circuit, causing a blast of solar wind to explode into space. These happen fairly regularly, and the really big ones seem to have the potential to wreak havoc on Earth by interrupting communications and blowing out power grids.
The last truly massive storm, in 1859, knocked out telegraph systems across the globe. A storm of similar strength today might fry the transformers serving cities, leaving millions without light, potable water, heating, air conditioning and telephone service for months. Victims of such plagues will at least get to experience some breathtaking vistas: When the charged particles strike our planet’s atmospheric gases, they light up the nighttime skies with red, purple and green auroras. Washington Post
for renewable energy?
In the United States, renewable energy sources could supply 80 percent of electricity demand in 2050 just by using technologies commercially available today. That is the word from a new report from the National Renewable Energy Laboratory, Renewable Electricity Futures Study.
Reaching that goal, the study says, will involve 50 percent of renewable-source electricity coming from wind and photovoltaics. NREL says hydropower will have less of a role over the next few decades, but suggests a growing role for offshore wind, and says dedicated biomass power plants – as opposed to just feeding biomass to coal plants – are needed. Phys.org