© Rod Rolle

Corina Logan
Leverhulme Early Career Research Fellow
Department of Zoology
University of Cambridge

Publications & Grants

© Corina Logan
Great-tailed grackle female at the Santa Barbara Zoo

© Julia Leijola
Rooks bill twining

© Jose Luciani
Ocellated antbird

© Johel Chaves-Campos
Army ant bivouac


Does innovation indicate behavioral flexibility?
Bird brain was considered an insult until a recent discovery that bird brains have an area that performs functions similar to that of the mammalian neocortex (the cognitive processing center). Researchers have begun looking for, and finding, avian intelligence in the large-brained species: crows make and use tools, rooks cooperate to get food, and western scrub-jays plan for the future. But is such intelligence restricted to species with large brains? Innovations (novel foraging techniques) are assumed to indicate behavioral flexibility (which is assumed to be a form of complex cognition) and the number of innovations a species has increases with relative brain size. This project investigates the link between innovation and relative brain size (corrected for body size) in a non-innovative bird with an average relative brain size, the great-tailed grackle (Quiscalus mexicanus). I compare grackle cognitive performance with that of innovative, large-brained New Caledonian crows (Corvus moneduloides) to test this assumption and begin to elucidate the benefits provided by large brains. I conduct additional behavioral, genetic, and immune system research on grackles in the wild to understand how and why their cognitive abilities evolved. Investigating how these abilities are used in their daily lives will indicate which factors shaped their intelligence.

Logan CJ. 2016. Behavioral flexibility and problem solving in an invasive bird. PeerJ 4:e1975.
  • National Geographic video
  • UCSB news: behavioral flexibility is more independent than intitially thought
  • Watch grackles solve the Aesop’s Fable and color discrimination tests
  • See an interview about my grackle research in Santa Barbara
  • Gates Cambridge and UCSB news releases discuss the grackle project and my National Geographic Society / Waitt Grant, as well as the Daily Nexus (8 Jan 2013), Santa Barbara News-Press (6 Jan 2013)

    Logan CJ. 2016. How far will a behaviourally flexible invasive bird go to innovate? Royal Society Open Science 3:160247.
  • Cambridge University press release and Gates Cambridge news
  • Watch grackles try to innovate string pulling and stick tool use

    Logan CJ, Jelbert SA, Breen AJ, Gray RD, Taylor AH. 2014. Modifications to the Aesop’s Fable paradigm change performances in New Caledonian crows. PLOS ONE 9(7):e103049. doi: 10.1371/journal.pone.0103049.
  • Watch Buster discriminate between water volumes and Kitty solve the u-tube
  • National Geographic Weird & Wild: are crows smarter than children?
  • UCSB news: crows distinguish between water volumes and inhibit causal knowledge
  • Newstalk radio interviews on Futureproof (starts at 25:20) and the Moncrieff show (starts at 36:52)
  • National Geographic Explorers Journal: Life in the field video blog

    What to do after a fight? Post-conflict affiliation (social support) in birds
    Conflicts are part of social life and many species employ conflict resolution strategies to maintain relationships with group members. One strategy is to engage in social support after the fight (post-conflict affiliation), which can occur between the individuals that fought (former opponent affiliation) or between a former opponent and a bystander (third-party affiliation). Our aim was to compare three closely related birds in the crow family (rooks, jackdaws, and Eurasian jays) to determine how the presence of strong social bonds influences post-conflict affiliative behavior. We found that the species with strong pair bonds year-round (rooks and jackdaws) engaged in post-conflict third-party affiliation with their mates after fighting with another group member (mates never fought with each other). In contrast, the Eurasian jays did not have strong bonds with their mate outside of the breeding season when their data were collected and, thus, engaged in post-conflict third-party affiliation with any individual not involved in the conflict. These results relied on our expansion of the methods for studying post-conflict affiliation. Post-conflict affiliation was not detected in any species according to the traditional measure (affiliation must occur sooner after the conflict than in the matched control condition), however there were higher frequencies and durations of affiliation after conflicts in all three species. The use of affiliation after conflicts may function to reduce stress, however further studies will be needed to investigate this.

    Logan CJ, Emery NJ, & Clayton NS. 2013. Alternative behavioral measures of corvid post-conflict affiliation. Behavioral Ecology 24:98-112.

    Logan CJ, Ostojic Lj, Clayton NS. 2013. Rook, but not jackdaw, post-conflict third-party affiliation reduces aggression for aggressors. Ethology 119:1-9.

  • I won the 2009 Science Writing prize for writing a popular science article about this work

    Do army ant-following birds remember the past to plan for the future?
    We discuss a rarely studied bird behavior and propose it as a good system for the study of mental time travel, the ability to remember the location and time of an event that occurred in the past and then use this integrated memory to imagine future choices. Some tropical birds collect their prey at army ant raids, where massive swarms of ants sweep through the forest and drive out insects. The behavior of interest is called bivouac checking; it allows these birds to track the cyclical raid activity of army ant colonies. Army ants have regular alternating periods of high and low raiding activity, and birds visit the ants’ temporary nest sites (bivouacs) to determine which colonies are raiding on a given day. We suggest bivouac checking allows birds to keep track of multiple army ant colonies, keeping account of which colonies are in periods of high raiding activity while avoiding colonies with low raiding activity. Birds check army ant bivouacs at the end of the day after they have fed at the raid. They may use the information about the army ant nest location the next day to find the ants again, thus accessing a past memory (the nest location) to fulfil a future need (bird will be hungry tomorrow). We provide a framework for investigating this behavior in the field and lab to determine whether it is a candidate for mental time travel.

    Logan CJ, O’Donnell S, and Clayton NS. 2011. A case of mental time travel in ant-following birds? Behavioral Ecology 22(6):1149-1153.
  • BBC Nature: Follow the ants
  • AnimalWise: Back to the future
  • Oxford University Press: A day in the life of an army ant bird researcher. I blog about what it was like to conduct this research.

    O’Donnell S, Logan C, Clayton NS. 2012. Specializations of birds that attend army ant raids: an ecological approach to cognitive and behavioral studies. Behavioural Processes doi:10.1016/j.beproc.2012.09.007.