Macaws may communicate visually with 'blushing,' ruffled feathers

Parrots -- highly intelligent and highly verbal -- may also ruffle their head feathers and blush to communicate visually, according to a new study by Aline Bertin. The study extends the understanding of the complex social lives of these remarkable birds, according to Science Daily.

The authors studied five hand-reared captive blue-and-yellow macaws (Ara ararauna) interacting with one another and with their human caretakers. They assessed the feather position (ruffled or sleeked) on the crown, nape, and cheek, as well as the presence or absence of blushing on the bare skin of the cheek. They found that feather ruffling was more common when the birds were not in motion, such as during social interactions and resting periods. Crown feather ruffling and blushing were both more common when the human caretaker was actively interacting with the parrot by talking and maintaining eye contact than when the keeper was in the room but ignoring and turning their backs to the bird. Together, these results suggest that head feather ruffling is associated with states of lower arousal and positive social interactions, the authors concluded.

Ants, acorns and climate change

The relatively swift adaptability of tiny, acorn-dwelling ants to warmer environments could help scientists predict how other species might evolve in the crucible of global climate change, according to Science Daily.

That's a big-picture conclusion from research into the some of the world's smallest creatures, according to evolutionary biologists at Case Western Reserve University.

More specifically, the scientists are comparing the adaptability of a certain species of ant raised in the "heat-island" microclimate of three cities to those in nearby cooler rural areas.

Elephants have gene that makes them virtually immune to cancer

Elephants have a gene that makes them virtually immune to cancer, scientists say.

Known as LIF6, the rare gene is dead and non-functioning in almost every other mammal on the planet, including humans, according to Daily Mail.

However, LIF6 is still alive and fighting cancerous mutations in elephants – giving it the nickname 'Zombie gene'. 

The life-saving LIF6 gene targets cells on the verge of mutating to become cancerous and forces them to die – saving the animal from the killer disease. 

How birds learn

Children are constantly learning new things, but whether they find it easy or hard to generalise what they have learned and apply it to new situations can depend on how they learned it. It is much the same for songbirds. In their first few months of life, they too must learn a great deal; for example, the characteristic song of their species. And like people, birds also learn in different ways. How these methods impact the ability to generalise was the subject of a study on zebra finches, conducted by a research team led by Richard Hahnloser, Professor at ETH Zurich and the University of Zurich.

Fairy-wrens learn alarm calls of other species just by listening

Birds often eavesdrop on the alarm calls of other species, making it possible for them to take advantage of many eyes looking out for danger. Now, researchers have found that fairy-wrens can learn those unfamiliar calls -- which they liken to a foreign language -- even without ever seeing the bird that made the call or the predator that provoked it. Instead, the birds in their study learned to recognize new alarm calls by listening for unfamiliar sounds within a chorus of familiar alarm calls, according to Science Daily.

"Alarm calls warn of predators, but here the birds learnt the meaning of the call from the alarm calls of others without needing to see the predator," says Robert Magrath of the Australian National University in Canberra. "This means it is a type of 'social learning,' where individuals learn from others rather than through direct experience. In this case, it's even more indirect, because they only need to hear and not see the birds giving the familiar alarm calls. So theoretically they could learn with their eyes closed!"