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Cockatoos Demonstrate the Ability to make Tools

The results of recent studies into avian intelligence have been fascinating and surprising. We have discussed some of them right here on the Little Peckers blog. Scientists are discovering that birds are far more intelligent than previously thought. Now new research has revealed that Goffins cockatoos possess the ability to make and use tools.

Tools and Intelligence

Tool manufacture was once regarded as a defining factor in gauging intelligence. It was thought that this ability was confined to humans and primates. But more and more birds have been found to possess the ability to make tools and to use them effectively.

New Research into Avian Intelligence

A team at the University of Veterinary Medicine in Vienna has been researching the abilities of Goffins cockatoos. Four birds were tested by being given materials that they could use to make tools. These would enable them to retrieve food which had been placed out of their reach. Researchers were amazed at the ingenuity of the cockatoos who were called Figaro, Dolittle, Kiwi and Pipin.

Cockatoos Tempted with Cashews

The birds could see pieces of cashew nut but needed to make a tool which would be the correct size and length to be poked through a hole and to reach and dislodge the nut. They were given four different materials to work with. One of these was a block or larch which would be a familiar material to them. The others were leafy twigs, cardboard and beeswax which would all be unfamiliar materials.

How the Cockatoos Made Their Tools

The researchers were astonished to witness the activities of the birds. They tore off splinters of the larch to use to poke through the hole. They stripped the twigs so that they would fit through the hole and they cut out the right sized pieces of cardboard to use. The only material that they couldn’t find a use for was the wax.

The way that the birds manipulated the cardboard proved to be particularly fascinating. The cockatoos would bite a large number of holes into the card to create perforations. They would stop doing this when the perforated line that they had created was of the right length. They would then tear off a piece of cardboard to use as a tool. Their judgement as to the length of tool required proved to be excellent.

All four parrots created tools from the twigs. Three of the birds worked out how to use the block of larch and two figured out how to utilise the cardboard.

Free Thinking

The scientists are aiming to discover how the birds think. Can they picture an object in their minds when it doesn’t yet exist? Can they use that picture to help them build what they need to perform a task? It looks like they can.

The Goffins cockatoos were chosen because they have never been observed making tools in the wild. This meant that there was no chance that they could use any knowledge that they had already acquired to complete the tasks in the experiments.

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