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Antarctica Seabirds Can Remember Specific Humans After A Few Interactions

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The Antarctica seabirds, the brown skuas (Stercorarius Antarcticus) seem to have the ability to recognize humans after brief interactions, claim a group of researchers from South Korea.

Birds that live among human habitation such as crows, parrots, magpies and mockingbirds have been known to display traits of recognizing humans. But in the case of skua birds, they live remotely in Antarctica with hardly any contact with humans, and hence it makes it an amazing fete.

"It is amazing that brown skuas, which evolved and lived in human-free habitats, recognized individual humans just after 3 or 4 visits. It seems that they have very high levels of cognitive abilities," exclaimed Won Young Lee, one of the senior study researchers.

Researchers from the Korea Polar Research Institute, South Korea, ventured into Antarctica to essentially study the breeding behavior of brown skuas. For this purpose, researchers had to physically examine the nests and eggs.

In the process, they began to realize that these seabirds could actually recognize those researchers who got too close to their nests or eggs. Following which, the birds would display aggressive behavior and try to carry out focused attacks aimed at the "intruders". The researchers who did not disturb their nest were left alone.

"I had to defend myself against the skuas' attack," said Yeong-Deok Han, a Ph.D. student at Inha University. "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."

There are predominantly two hypotheses that have been arrived at by the researchers in their study towards determining how animals in the wild distinguish humans. One hypothesis is that they possess pre-existing intelligence that helps them distinguish and the other is that they acquire this ability through periodic exposure to humans.

The interesting details of the study have been published in the journal Animal Cognition dated March 3.

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