Cockatoo 'can make its own tools' (w/ Video)

Nov 05, 2012
Figaro making and using tools. Credit: Alice Auersperg

A cockatoo from a species not known to use tools in the wild has been observed spontaneously making and using tools for reaching food and other objects.

A Goffin's called 'Figaro', that has been reared in captivity and lives near Vienna, used his powerful beak to cut long splinters out of wooden beams in its aviary, or twigs out of a branch, to reach and rake in objects out of its reach. Researchers from the Universities of Oxford and Vienna filmed Figaro making and using these tools.

How the bird discovered how to make and use tools is unclear but shows how much we still don't understand about the evolution of innovative behaviour and intelligence.

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A Goffin’s cockatoo called ‘Figaro’, that has been reared in captivity and lives near Vienna, uses his powerful beak to cut long splinters out of wooden beams in its aviary, or twigs out of a branch, to reach and rake in objects out of its reach. Researchers from the Universities of Oxford and Vienna filmed Figaro making and using these tools. This species is not known to use tools in the wild. Credit: Vienna University & Oxford University

Dr Alice Auersperg of the University of Vienna, who led the study, 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."

Figaro making and using tools. Credit: Alice Auersperg

"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 . 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, an author of the study, said: '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 fulfil 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."

Professor Kacelnik previously led studies in the natural tool-using New Caledonian crows. One of them, named Betty, surprised scientists by fashioning hooks out of wire to retrieve food that was out of reach. These crows use and make tools in the wild, and live in groups that may support culture, but there was no precedent for Betty's form of hook making. Her case is still considered as a striking example of individual creativity and innovation, and Figaro seems ready to join her.

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."

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More information: 'Spontaneous innovation in tool manufacture and use in a Goffin's cockatoo' is to be published in Current Biology on 6th November 2012. DOI: 10.1016/j.cub.2012.09.002

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daggoth
4.2 / 5 (5) Nov 05, 2012
This sort of act should show people that it only takes a single member of a species to change its evolutionary path. If this bird, or any animal really, raised and taught its children these techniques it would most likely cause changes on how the brain wired itself. Continual changes of this nature may be small but after thousands of generations who knows what would result!
squirt16oz
3.7 / 5 (3) Nov 05, 2012
There is far more here than the obvious—just a bird making a tool...this animals shows an ability to think out the problem, guage what will help resolve a problem, then form and manipulate resources in its environment. This should send some animal behaviorists and evolutionists back to the drawing board, and perhaps re-write some books, in my opinion.
ddietle
5 / 5 (1) Nov 05, 2012
And this was just one cockatoo. Entire flocks of crows do this kind of thing.
Jeddy_Mctedder
1.3 / 5 (6) Nov 05, 2012
i've always absolutely loved the stream of articles about animals doing novel things.
on one hand it's so beautiful, on the other hand its truly amusing to see these 'scientists' or other observers write how surprised they are to realize animals are so smart. just think, if you were to observe people on end for years, how often would you see them do something truly smart and novel.

the surprises are obviously there and waiting, however the wait would be long. and of course, if you put those people in a jail or a cage like we do to many animals that will alter the dynamics of the process, like increasing the animals' stress while decreasing the exposure to novel stimulation----thus decreasing the probability of observing novel or intelligent behavior.

just imagine what cockatoos probably do in the wild while we aren't observing.

Torbjorn_Larsson_OM
3.7 / 5 (3) Nov 05, 2012
@ squirt16oz: Thankfully your opinion counts for nothing, seeing how it is animal behaviorists doing the work (while armchair commenters opinionates) and evolutionists are on top of this with having the crows and parrots sorted into clades distinguished by intelligence already.

It is the anti-scientists that have to get back to their drawing board. Wait ... that hasn't worked for the last 4 centuries as science got going and happened to work, while not doing science didn't work for millenniums before that ... maybe they should just give up sounding dumb instead.
Sinister1811
1 / 5 (5) Nov 06, 2012
There is far more here than the obvious—just a bird making a tool...this animals shows an ability to think out the problem, guage what will help resolve a problem, then form and manipulate resources in its environment. This should send some animal behaviorists and evolutionists back to the drawing board, and perhaps re-write some books, in my opinion.


Whilst I agree, I don't see why would that send them back to the drawing board. This is pretty much what they've known (and suspected) all along - that gradual changes occur and that these changes influence the long-term survival of a species.
PJS
5 / 5 (1) Nov 06, 2012
i, for one, welcome our new twig-wielding avian overlords
VendicarD
5 / 5 (1) Nov 06, 2012
Shouldn't the Pentagon be looking into this as a national security thread and developing cockatoo countermeasures?