Innate or learned?

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Innate or learned?

Postby A_Seagull on July 16th, 2017, 4:12 am 

Is the behaviour of (some) cuckoos of laying their eggs in the nests of other species an innate or learned behaviour?

Similarly is the complex nests built by some birds (e.g. the weaver bird) an innate or learned behaviour?
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Re: Innate or learned?

Postby BioWizard on July 16th, 2017, 7:56 am 

I don't believe these behaviours are learned.

I raised a zebra finch from the egg once. When he grew up, he built the nicest nest of the other males I had back then, even though he never interacted with them or saw their nests (he lived indoors with us while all the other birds lived outside).
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Re: Innate or learned?

Postby Watson on July 16th, 2017, 7:59 am 

Wouldn't the answer depend on the specific situation? And is the bird old enough to have learned the behavior and did it have the right learning cues to develop the behavior?
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Re: Innate or learned?

Postby BioWizard on July 16th, 2017, 8:21 am 

At least with my birds, I noticed an improvement in nest building as the birds matured and gained more experience. Aside from incremental refinement and increased building speed, however, the base behavior itself seemed mostly innate.

The nests ended up with different overall appearance depending on what material I gave them. But it was more like they were all building towards the same overall prototype, and properties of the materials would allow it or not. For example, I would see them trying to build upwards once the base is constructed, but softer materials would collapse - so they just went sideways with those.
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Re: Innate or learned?

Postby Forest_Dump on July 16th, 2017, 10:01 am 

Interesting stuff. I had assumed that while a certain amount might be hard-wired or programmed, at least some was learned through socialization. But then Bio's observations raise, I think, the possibility that there might be some self-learning in terms of some kind of improving towards some kind of mental tempalate. Neat stuff.
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Re: Innate or learned?

Postby BioWizard on July 16th, 2017, 10:16 am 

Forest_Dump » 16 Jul 2017 09:01 am wrote:Interesting stuff. I had assumed that while a certain amount might be hard-wired or programmed, at least some was learned through socialization. But then Bio's observations raise, I think, the possibility that there might be some self-learning in terms of some kind of improving towards some kind of mental tempalate. Neat stuff.


I agree with your interpretation. I also saw self learning in the act of raising chicks. The first clutch would very frequently die meanwhile first time parents figure out how to feed new babies (some try to regurgitate but output nothing the first few times, some output but miss, some don't chew the food enough and the chicks choke, etc). When I would put a first timer with an experienced mate, however, survival odds of the chicks normalized. Though since I wasn't controlling these experiments (it was more hobby than research), it is difficult for me to tell whether that was due to the new parent learning faster from the experienced parent, or whether it was simply the experienced parent filling in meanwhile the new one figured things out.
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Re: Innate or learned?

Postby Serpent on July 16th, 2017, 11:10 am 

I suspect that, with birds, as well as mammals, the basic survival mechanisms are innate. They'll forage, vocalize, mate and migrate according to patterns long laid down in their genes.
But when it comes to more complex behaviour - problem-solving, adaptation, escape, relocation and finding new sources of food - thought processes kick in that give the most intelligent an advantage. (Crows can distinguish human faces. But, but, humans hadn't even been invented when crows acquired their full set of instinctive survival mechanisms.) Whatever they figure out, or copy from other birds, they then teach to their own flock and offspring. This also gives an advantage to the longer-lived birds with slower metabolism. A hummingbird has very little time to learn anything or perfect its methodology - it's too busy just staying alive.

Eventually - in 10,000 or more generations - the new behaviour might be added to the base repertoire. That's probably how the present set of innate behaviours formed - one newly learned, useful activity at a time. For example, the grass that a particular bird species uses for nesting material all burns one spring, and they have to resort to other materials. Some of these birds will make crappy nests, some will happen upon a superior building material, and thus have a higher success rate in raising young to maturity. This strain may eventually make the new material their default, even when the original grass comes back.
(I used a load of shredded paper on my strawberry bed once, about ten years ago. The robins' nests in my apple trees looked positively palatial! But I don't know whether that was an advantage for the robins, since those nests were also more conspicuous than their usual style.)
Amend that: the new behaviours are more likely to have to come, not singly, but in small clusters, in response to a change in the environment.
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Re: Innate or learned?

Postby Watson on July 16th, 2017, 12:42 pm 

Earlier this spring I noticed Robins flying in and out of the neighbors shallow brick fire pit. The neighbor had taken the nest off the light above the garage entrance and tossed it in the pit. The Robin's seemed to be ok with the new location, but I moved it to a better, longer term spot on top of the shed 10 feet away. They gave up on it from that point. I also found a blue egg, undamaged in the front yard on some dried leaves. I think the transition to the safer location would have worked if it wasn't at the exact same time as the egg was ready to be placed, somewhere.
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Re: Innate or learned?

Postby Serpent on July 16th, 2017, 4:16 pm 

I doubt robins will make it past the climatic break. Probably very few avians will - not for lack of intelligence so much as for the special vulnerability of flying long distances, in altered winds over an altered landscape.
I'm seeing yearly fewer birds of any kind, except corvids; redstars, finches, martins, sparrows, flycatchers are all dwindling; I haven't seen an oriole or kinglet in three years and only one pair of killdeer this spring.

I'm kind of speculating on this question of changed conditions. Each time it happens, it must cause a substantial die-off, and require a whole range of adaptation in the survivors - because no environmental catastrophe causes a single challenge; it's always a cluster, or cascade affect. Such events in the past very likely left the kind of gaps in the fossil record that creationists can stuff a small, not terribly clever god into.
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Re: Innate or learned?

Postby wolfhnd on July 16th, 2017, 7:13 pm 

Serpent » Sun Jul 16, 2017 8:16 pm wrote:I doubt robins will make it past the climatic break. Probably very few avians will - not for lack of intelligence so much as for the special vulnerability of flying long distances, in altered winds over an altered landscape.
I'm seeing yearly fewer birds of any kind, except corvids; redstars, finches, martins, sparrows, flycatchers are all dwindling; I haven't seen an oriole or kinglet in three years and only one pair of killdeer this spring.

I'm kind of speculating on this question of changed conditions. Each time it happens, it must cause a substantial die-off, and require a whole range of adaptation in the survivors - because no environmental catastrophe causes a single challenge; it's always a cluster, or cascade affect. Such events in the past very likely left the kind of gaps in the fossil record that creationists can stuff a small, not terribly clever god into.


How did robins make it through the last glaciation? Robins may very well outlast humans. Humans it seems barely made it through the thousand year cooling period around 70 thousand years ago.
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Re: Innate or learned?

Postby BioWizard on July 16th, 2017, 7:25 pm 

Ok, but we're arguably a lot harder to kill off now.
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Re: Innate or learned?

Postby Forest_Dump on July 16th, 2017, 7:52 pm 

wolfhnd wrote:How did robins make it through the last glaciation? Robins may very well outlast humans. Humans it seems barely made it through the thousand year cooling period around 70 thousand years ago.


Minor point but America Robins have a summer range right up to the Arctic Ocean (which I can almost verify since I saw them just south of the Arctic Circle earlier this week - to my admitted surprise). So in fact these might be among the "generalists" in some way, we were mentioning in another thread. They can adapt to environments to a broad array of areas and so do well enough to survive some pretty severe environmental changes. But of course others will not. Perhaps one key is in the ability to self learn really quickly and so adapt quickly.
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Re: Innate or learned?

Postby wolfhnd on July 16th, 2017, 8:05 pm 

Forest_Dump » Sun Jul 16, 2017 11:52 pm wrote:
wolfhnd wrote:How did robins make it through the last glaciation? Robins may very well outlast humans. Humans it seems barely made it through the thousand year cooling period around 70 thousand years ago.


Minor point but America Robins have a summer range right up to the Arctic Ocean (which I can almost verify since I saw them just south of the Arctic Circle earlier this week - to my admitted surprise). So in fact these might be among the "generalists" in some way, we were mentioning in another thread. They can adapt to environments to a broad array of areas and so do well enough to survive some pretty severe environmental changes. But of course others will not. Perhaps one key is in the ability to self learn really quickly and so adapt quickly.


Having a three a three year life cycle is an advantage.
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Re: Innate or learned?

Postby Serpent on July 16th, 2017, 8:05 pm 

I only meant to cast a jocular aspesion on their intelligence. Probably unfairly.

Still, as evolution goes, quite large chunks of a species can die off and the surviving strain(s) very quickly fill up their vacated niche(s) when the catastrophic event is over. It may be a taxonomic challenge to identify the post-event population with the pre-event population.
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Re: Innate or learned?

Postby wolfhnd on July 16th, 2017, 8:08 pm 

Serpent » Mon Jul 17, 2017 12:05 am wrote:I only meant to cast a jocular aspesion on their intelligence. Probably unfairly.

Still, as evolution goes, quite large chunks of a species can die off and the surviving strain(s) very quickly fill up their vacated niche(s) when the catastrophic event is over. It may be a taxonomic challenge to identify the post-event population with the pre-event population.


Well I don't fall into the category of people that catch on fast.
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Re: Innate or learned?

Postby Watson on July 16th, 2017, 9:02 pm 

Since we're on it, the robins I usually see are solitary and very territorial. But one time I saw a stretch of rural highway dotted with a lot of robins for a mile or so into the distance. With those I could see on the road, plus many more in the ditches and fields I'd say it was a flock in the low hundreds. But apparently that's how they travel. Yes, I just googled it.
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Re: Innate or learned?

Postby Serpent on July 16th, 2017, 10:19 pm 

My little flock of robins used to consist of three pairs who regularly foraged in the front yard in early morning, and met again in the back yard about 4PM, all through the season. They didn't socialize, exactly; pretty much kept to their own patches, but tolerated one another within a few meters (unlike hummers, who will chase each other off, even when there are two feeders carefully placed so there is no line of sight between - little firebrands, them). The robins' nests were in two apple trees and under the eves of our storage shed, year after year. They may have been related - grown offspring brings home spouse kind of thing.
This year, there is only one pair, I rarely see them and don't even know whether they have hatchlings. There are so few insects, I'm seriously worried.
Two mourning doves have recently started visiting the feeders outside my window every evening. They never used to come inside the shadow of the tall trees or near the house. That's a markedly changed behaviour.
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Re: Innate or learned?

Postby wolfhnd on July 16th, 2017, 10:50 pm 

My robins raised two nice broods in the same tree they have for years. There are two additional pairs in the neighbors trees. I actually see more than I ever have.

These things change, when I first moved in there was only one small juniper in our yard. 30 years later there is almost complete shade from multiple mature trees. When the yard was barren turtle doves raised two broods a year now they are gone and the robins and cardinals have taken their place.

"Survey-wide, robins are increasing throughout most of their range, with a slight increase in the US and a slight decrease in Canada"

https://birdsna.org/Species-Account/bna ... demography
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Re: Innate or learned?

Postby Watson on July 16th, 2017, 11:00 pm 

I had robins nesting under the eaves outside my kitchen window, but this year as they started to nest we startled each other and they never came back so far. Also we discussed the insects here sometime ago, and the lack of them hitting the windshield. Was a time, when a short drive on the highway made quite a mess. Now, hitting a bug is an unusual speck
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Re: Innate or learned?

Postby wolfhnd on July 16th, 2017, 11:26 pm 

http://news.nationalgeographic.com/news ... nt-spring/

Insect populations are definitely down. Bad news for any ecosystem.
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Re: Innate or learned?

Postby A_Seagull on July 17th, 2017, 1:14 am 

Thank you all for your thought provoking responses.

It seems that, at least with nest building, that innate behaviour can transition into learned behaviour. And perhaps this is the case for all innate motivations.

And perhaps an example of this transition is in psychological imprinting. So a young gosling, for example, has an innate desire to identify a parental figure and so will imprint upon the first object that seems to meet this criteria whether it be their actual mother, a plastic model or a person. So the innate motivation transitions to learned behaviour.
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Re: Innate or learned?

Postby BadgerJelly on July 17th, 2017, 1:37 am 

I think this topic also helps reveal the religious attitude against the ideas expressed in evolution. People don't like the idea that these things apply to humans too! haha!

It is striking to pretend we are the finch building the nest without any thought as to why we are doing so. This kind of thing I can see as being very unsettling for some.

I do wonder if the finch in some way "rationalizes" its want for constructing these things? Is it too engaged with the task and improving its ability to be "concerned" with the WHY?

With the human animal we don't tend to question our want to "improve" or become "skillful". I guess the "reason" we might give is our want to be "admired", but this is merely a socially imposed rationalization that may not be anywhere near a kind of "truth".

To further look into behavior would it be fair to think that building a nest to the finch bares little difference to the act of breathing or eating? By this I mean sating an inbuilt requirement, an "urge" of sorts.

For me the most obvious innate ability of humans is the very thing we don't view and cannot view in an "external" way. By this I mean "language" my, and everyones, personal obsession.
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Re: Innate or learned?

Postby Sivad on July 17th, 2017, 4:47 am 

This thread reminds me of something I read recently about the "controversy" over Universal Grammar -

"I imagine Chomsky’s first encounter with the devastating blow went like this:

Chomsky is working at his computer when a student rushes in.
Student: “Professor Chomsky! They’ve discovered an Amazonian tribe that has a language without recursion!”
Chomsky (slowly turning from his computer): “Can they learn Portuguese?”
Student: “Well… yes.”
Chomsky slowly turns back to his computer."
http://www.3ammagazine.com/3am/tom-wolfes-reflections-language/
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Re: Innate or learned?

Postby Braininvat on July 17th, 2017, 9:21 am 

I knew I wanted to finish the article when I read the author's description of Wolfe''s book as "... a literary Sharknado of error and self-satisfaction, with borderline racism and anti-Semitism mixed in....."

It's too bad, because a more knowledgeable writer than Wolfe could have introduced readers to genuine challenges to UG and possible theoretic modifications. Instead he wastes our time picking on Chomsky for not being a field man, as if Chomsky were deeply impaired by being cloistered in a comfortable office in Cambridge.
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Re: Innate or learned?

Postby Serpent on July 17th, 2017, 9:55 am 

BadgerJelly » July 17th, 2017, 12:37 am wrote:I do wonder if the finch in some way "rationalizes" its want for constructing these things? Is it too engaged with the task and improving its ability to be "concerned" with the WHY?

I very much doubt any other animal is cursed with that problem. From all I've been able to observe, animals and birds do things for reasons that seem obvious and self-evident to them: "I need a tree to call my own. This one. Mine." (This spring, I had to bag the rear view mirrors on our car, because a robin kept trying to beat them up. There was no other robin to fight.) "It's time to find a mate." "I itch. Where is a puddle?" "I want to be on the other side of this door. Neeooowwww!"

Human children tend to do likewise. They don't start justifying, rationalizing and excusing their actions until adults force them to: "What were you thinking?" And then their answers are mostly bogus - they'll watch the adult's face (is she buying this? does he approve?) while constructing a rationale. The truth is something like: "The baby was bawling. I heard you say he can yell till he's blue in the face. I wanted him to stop. So I painted him blue. " But it becomes obvious very quickly that the adult doesn't want to hear anything with "you said" in it, so the kid has to come up with another story. Autistic children tell the truth, because they can't read other people. (Then the same adults turn around and prevericate to their gods; seems gods can't handle the truth, either.)
That's how social behaviour is learned.

I have a clear recollection of the first time I told a deliberate lie (c. age 3). I have a hazy recollection of the first time I codified my own belief-system (18, of course). But I have no recollection at all of when the urge to self-justification went from external to internal.
It would be very interesting to know when, in our evolution, humans came up with the idea of explaining their own motivations. I would put that as the transition, the point of no return: The Apple Moment.
Since then, we examine and question and justify everything, and have only a vague, nagging suspicion in the back of our minds as to how much of what we do is driven by instinct or animal desire.
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Re: Innate or learned?

Postby doogles on July 18th, 2017, 6:45 am 

A_Seagull » Sun Jul 16, 2017 4:12 am wrote:Is the behaviour of (some) cuckoos of laying their eggs in the nests of other species an innate or learned behaviour?

Similarly is the complex nests built by some birds (e.g. the weaver bird) an innate or learned behaviour?


What an interesting thread! It’s a subject wherein the evidence is within the almost-daily observation of most of us, and within the comprehension of all of us.

A feature of this thread so far is that virtually all of the contributions have been positive and additive.

Biowizard’s contribution that a Robin reared in isolation built a Robin’s nest is excellent evidence of hard-wiring.

I would like to add to the contributions so far by registering my impression that different species of birds each have their own specific STYLE of nest, and that, in fact the bird can be roughly identified by the main properties of the nest.

This, to my mind, indicates that both the DRIVE to build and the GENERAL method of building are essentially innate.

If LEARNING were involved, one would have to postulate that either individuals add modifications from their own imaginations (individual insights) or else a bird can only learn nest-building modifications from observing modifications made by members of its own species – otherwise we’d have hybrid nests. The opportunity is ever present for any bird to observe and learn from the techniques used by all the other species.

I‘ve never been a birdwatcher; only a casual ‘looker’ at birds, so I have no authority of any kind. Maybe there are ‘hybrid nests’?
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