Animal Cognition

, Volume 16, Issue 5, pp 755–764 | Cite as

Means–end comprehension in four parrot species: explained by social complexity

  • Anastasia Krasheninnikova
  • Stefan Bräger
  • Ralf Wanker
Original Paper


A comparative approach is required to investigate the evolutionary origins of cognitive abilities. In this paper, we compare the performance of four parrot species, spectacled parrotlets (Forpus conspicillatus), rainbow lorikeets (Trichoglossus haematodus), green-winged macaws (Ara chloroptera) and sulphur-crested cockatoos (Cacatua galerita triton) in standardized string-pulling and string-choice paradigms. We varied the spatial relationship between the strings, the presence of a reward and the physical contact between the string and the reward to test different cognitive skills requiring means–end comprehension. The species tested showed a high individual and inter-specific variation in their ability to solve the tasks. Spectacled parrotlets performed best among the four species and solved the most complex choice tasks, namely crossed-string task and broken-string task, spontaneously. In contrast, macaws and cockatoos failed to identify the correct string in these two tasks. The rainbow lorikeets were outperformed by the parrotlets, but outperformed in turn the macaws and the cockatoos. The findings can be best explained by the variation in social complexity among species, rather than in their ecology.


Ara chloroptera Cacatua galerita triton Comparative cognition Forpus conspicillatus Means–end relationship Trichoglossus haematodus 



We thank Jutta Schneider, Lutz Fromhage, Henrike Hultsch, and the members of the division of animal behaviour at the University of Hamburg for fruitful discussions and four anonymous referees for valuable comments on an earlier draft of this manuscript. We also thank Gabriele Ismer from the Tierpark Gettorf, Germany, as well as Walter Wolters and Guido Westhoff from the Tierpark Hagenbeck, Hamburg, Germany, for their constant support and enthusiasm and for permitting us to conduct research on the animals under their care. The experiments reported complied with the relevant German laws.


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Copyright information

© Springer-Verlag Berlin Heidelberg 2013

Authors and Affiliations

  • Anastasia Krasheninnikova
    • 1
  • Stefan Bräger
    • 2
  • Ralf Wanker
    • 1
  1. 1.Biozentrum Grindel, Department of BiologyUniversity of HamburgHamburgGermany
  2. 2.SchellhornGermany

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