The crow solves a cognitive test, pops coins in a slot, and out come peanuts. That's the hopeful final stage of an innovative new animal cognition field testing device known as a "Crow Box."

Already, captive crows have been trained to retrieve coins and use the vending machine; the inventor of Crow Box hopes to expand to wild crows next.

First, crows acclimate to the sound and look of the vending machine, also learning to associate it with food. The machine dispenses peanuts and coins together, training the crow to associate those sounds and sights with a food reward. Finally, with clever positioning of a funnel-- and by initially withholding peanuts-- the researchers hope to naturally train crows to deposit coins. In short, this will work by prompting crows to accidentally bump coins down a funnel; then, peanuts immediately pop out in the food tray. At this point-- if laboratory training procedures are any indicator-- the crows will swiftly learn to associate "coin-down-funnel" with a peanut reward.

From there, it is smooth sailing-- and birdwatchers worldwide will soon be rolling in riches.

In all seriousness, though, models of cognitive testing that do not require the use of captive animals could be the future of animal intelligence research. I'm still waiting for dolphin vending machines... although I am wary of providing dolphins with sample technology that may hasten their impending departure from earth.

Many thanks to William Bernhardt for sending along this article!!