The memory of the North Island robin, or toutouwai, has been put to the test in a study which found the bird can remember a skill taught two years earlier.
Victoria University of Wellington researcher Dr Rachael Shaw taught 64 toutouwai at Wellington eco-sanctuary Zealandia how to open lids with their beak to get a worm in 2016.
“You leave the lids open so that it's visible and then you progressively close them,” she said.
When she retested half of the birds in 2018, to her surprise, all but two could quickly perform the task.
Other native birds tested for the research, published today in The Royal Society’s Biology Letters, were unable to.
She said the study helps address a lack of research on the long-term recall of animals.
“If a human teaches an animal a skill, say training your dog to sit, that's something the dog then does in its daily life over and over but here they were taught to do something once in some cases over two years ago and not given any reinforcement in between,” she said.
Dr Shaw chose to work with the toutouwai due their curious nature and believes the findings are applicable for the species living outside Zealandia too.
The bird is at risk of predators, including pet cats.
“If we could teach them something about say invasive mammalian predators, how to recognise and avoid them, here we've shown they have the ability potentially to recall taught information for a long time even if they don't have a lot of reinforcing experience,” she said.
Dr Shaw said a study looking at the ability for toutouwai to recall predators and potential defence strategies is already underway.