November 6, 2012
Scientists Observe Cockatoo Making And Using Tools
[ Watch the Video: Cockatoo Making And Using Own Tools ]
April Flowers for redOrbit.com - Your Universe Online
A Goffin's cockatoo, a species not known for tool use in the wild, has been observed spontaneously making and using tools for reaching food and other objects.
The cockatoo named Figaro was raised in captivity and currently lives near Vienna. A new study, published in Current Biology, shows Figaro using his powerful beak to cut long splinters out of wooden beams and twigs from a branch to reach and rake in objects out of the bird's reach.
The team is unclear on how Figaro discovered how to make and use tools, but the findings of their study show how much we still don´t understand about the evolution of innovative behavior and intelligence.
Dr Alice Auersperg of the University of Vienna said, "During our daily observation protocols, Figaro was playing with a small stone. At some point, he inserted the pebble through the cage mesh, and it fell just outside his reach. After some unsuccessful attempts to reach it with his claw, he fetched a small stick and started fishing for his toy."
"To investigate this further we later placed a nut where the pebble had been and started to film. To our astonishment, he did not go on searching for a stick but started biting a large splinter out of the aviary beam. He cut it when it was just the appropriate size and shape to serve as a raking tool to obtain the nut," Auersperg continued.
"It was already a surprise to see him use a tool, but we certainly did not expect him to make one by himself. From that time on, Figaro was successful on obtaining the nut every single time we placed it there, nearly each time making new tools. On one attempt he used an alternative solution, breaking a side arm off a branch and modifying the leftover piece to the appropriate size for raking."
Professor Alex Kacelnik of Oxford University commented, "Figaro shows us that, even when they are not habitual tool-users, members of a species that are curious, good problem-solvers, and large-brained, can sculpt tools out of a shapeless source material to fulfill a novel need. Even though Figaro is still alone in the species and among parrots in showing this capacity, his feat demonstrates that tool craftsmanship can emerge from intelligence not-specialized for tool use. Importantly, after making and using his first tool, Figaro seemed to know exactly what to do, and showed no hesitation in later trials."
Previous studies led by Kacelnik include investigation into the natural tool-using New Caledonian crows. One crow, named Betty, fashioned hooks out of wire to retrieve food out of her reach. New Caledonian crows use and make tools in the wild, and live in groups that may support culture. However, there was no precedent for Betty's hook making. This is still considered a striking case of individual creativity and innovation.
Professor Kacelnik said, "We confess to be still struggling to identify the cognitive operations that make these deeds possible. Figaro, and his predecessor Betty, may help us unlock many unknowns in the evolution of intelligence."