Here’s some useful work by new Zealand scientists: By themselves, the New Caledonian crows didn’t know what the thirsty crow knew in the famous Aesop’s fable: He dropped pebbles into a nearly empty pitcher until the much-sought water ended up at the top. But given hints, …
Crows saw a tube partially filled with water. Inside the tube was a bite of meat, stuck onto a piece of wood that floated below their reach. Small stones were sitting nearby. If you’re thinking that you might not have been able to solve this puzzle, rest assured–the birds didn’t get it either.
After making sure the crows didn’t naturally know how to solve the puzzle, the researchers gave the birds a hint. This time, the crows saw the same tube, floating meat, and stones. But there was a platform next to the top of the tube with a couple stones sitting on it, too. As the crows attempted to jam their beaks far enough into the tube to reach the meat, they tended to accidentally knock the stones into the tube. After doing this several times and noticing how the water level rose, all the crows eventually figured out the trick. They began dropping stones into the tube on purpose to get the meat.
This suggests that smarter animals do not so much abstract a solution to a problem as take available hints from their environment (in this case elaborately provided by people). Makes sense.