New caledonian crows find 2 tools better than 1

August 16, 2007

Researchers have found that New Caledonian crows—which are known to make complex food-getting tools in the wild—can also spontaneously use one tool on another to get a snack. The researchers report their findings online August 16 in Current Biology, a publication of Cell Press.

The birds' tool-use skills rival those seen among great apes, according to the researchers. Moreover, it appears that the birds may have solved the problem that confronted them by using analogical reasoning rather than simple trial and error. Analogical reasoning requires the ability to see a novel situation as being essentially the same as a previous situation, the researchers explained.

"Evidence suggests that, from the earliest human stone tools, analogical reasoning has been at the core of human innovation," said Russell Gray of the University of Auckland. "This hallmark of human intelligence may also be at work in both the great apes and New Caledonian crows and may explain why--out of all the crow species in the world—only these crows routinely make and use tools."

In the study, the researchers presented crows with some meat in a hole and a stick that left the meat out of reach. The birds needed to get a long stick out of a "toolbox" in order to get the meat from the hole. However, the long stick was also out of reach. "The creative thing the crows did was to use the short stick to get the long tool out of the box so that they could then use the long stick to get the meat," said Alex Taylor, also of the University of Auckland.

In a second experiment, the researchers reversed the positions of the two sticks so that the small stick was inside the toolbox and the long stick was handy. The crows then briefly probed the box containing the short stick with the long stick before correcting their error by taking the stick directly to the hole.

"It was surprising to find that these 'bird-brained' creatures performed at the same levels as the best performances by great apes on such a difficult problem," Gray said. "Six out of seven birds tried to get the long stick with the short stick at their first attempt at solving the problem. To do this, they had to inhibit their normal response of trying to get the food directly with the short stick and realize that they could use the short stick to get the long stick."

Source: Cell Press

Explore further: Crows demonstrate their cleverness with tools (w/ Video)

Related Stories

Crows demonstrate their cleverness with tools (w/ Video)

April 22, 2010

( -- New Zealand scientists studying New Caledonian crows have found they can use three different tools in succession to gain a food treat. The crows are known to solve problems and fashion and use tools in the ...

Canny crows know their tools

October 8, 2013

( —Scientists at the University of St Andrews have discovered that New Caledonian crows, famous for their use of tools to extract hidden food, do not rely on guesswork when deploying one of their most complicated ...

Crows, like humans, store their tools when not in use

May 21, 2015

Researchers at the University of St Andrews have discovered that crows, like humans, store their tools when they don't need them. The study published today in the Proceedings of the Royal Society B is the first to examine ...

Show us how you play and it may tell us who you are

December 15, 2014

The ways animals play with inedible objects may be precursors of functional behaviors such as tool use and goal directed object manipulation. For these reasons, species of high technical intelligence are also expected to ...

Study shows crows able to infer actions of hidden agent

September 18, 2012

(—The more scientists study animals and their intellectual abilities, the more it appears that many of them have heretofore unknown abilities that can match some of our own. One such animal is the New Caledonian ...

Recommended for you

Amazon deforestation leaps 16 percent in 2015

November 28, 2015

Illegal logging and clearing of Brazil's Amazon rainforest increased 16 percent in the last year, the government said, in a setback to the aim of stopping destruction of the world's greatest forest by 2030.

CERN collides heavy nuclei at new record high energy

November 25, 2015

The world's most powerful accelerator, the 27 km long Large Hadron Collider (LHC) operating at CERN in Geneva established collisions between lead nuclei, this morning, at the highest energies ever. The LHC has been colliding ...


Please sign in to add a comment. Registration is free, and takes less than a minute. Read more

Click here to reset your password.
Sign in to get notified via email when new comments are made.