I made friends with a guy named Bryce on my morning bus route. Bryce is a graduate student in Cognitive Psychology who actually likes to listen to me talk about science, math, and philosophy. Sometimes we talk about ideas that I’ve been thinking about, and other times we talk about the research he does and the ideas that he has been thinking about. He runs a lab that is dedicated to studying the social behavior of the Pinion Jay, a species of bird native to the Southwest. As control groups of the study, Bryce uses Scrub Jays (what we Californians call “blue jays”) and Blue Jays. Yesterday, I was invited to take the VIP tour of the lab. I even got to wear a lab-coat! I felt like a real scientist!
The level of social awareness and cognition in Pinion Jays is amazing. It was interesting to think about the lives of the birds who spend nearly all day every day in cages. I would be appalled if they were creatures like gorillas or chimps, but for the birds, it seems like their caged lives might even be better than the meager existence they experience in the wild. In the lab, they stay fairly hungry for the sake of the experiment, but are always taken care of. I don’t believe that birds are capable of reasoned consent, so no alarm bells rang as I saw the artificial environments. It was an interesting experience.