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Not known to manufacture or use tools in the wild, a captive cockatoo demonstrates that parrots can make tools to suit their needs


Portrait of a Tanimbar corella, Cacatua goffiniana, also known as the

Goffin's cockatoo. [DOI: 10.1016/j.cub.2012.09.002]

If you've ever lived with a parrot, then you are well aware that they come with a built-in multi-purpose tool attached to their faces. For this reason, most parrots do just fine without ever needing to create a separate tool to meet their objectives.

Well, usually. It turns out that at least one parrot, a captive cockatoo named Figaro, has found circumstances when his built-in Swiss army knife does not do the job, so he did what any self-respecting bird would do: he constructed a tool designed to get the job done.


Figaro, a captive male Tanimbar corella, uses a tool of his own making to retrieve

a cashew nut. [DOI: 10.1016/j.cub.2012.09.002]

Figaro is a male Tanimbar corella, Cacatua goffiniana, a species that is more commonly known in the pet trade as Goffin's cockatoo. Native to the islands of Indonesia's Tanimbar archipelago, this near-threatened parrot is the smallest of the white cockatoo species. In the wild, Tanimbar corellas are very social, living in groups that number between 10 and 100 individuals. They are found in dry tropical forests, roost in tree cavities, and feed mainly on seeds. But wild Tanimbar corellas are not known to make or use tools.

Figaro lives with a group of captive Tanimbar corellas in a large aviary at the University of Vienna in Austria. One day, a student caregiver noticed Figaro pushing a stone pebble through the aviary wire mesh, where it fell on a wood structural beam. Unable to retrieve the stone with his foot, Figaro then fetched a piece of bamboo and again attempted to retrieve the stone using the bamboo stick. Although he was ultimately unsuccessful, surprised researchers recognised the potential of his actions and immediately placed him in visual isolation from the group (in the company of a submissive female named Heidi) to avoid him sharing this novel behaviour with the rest of the flock.

During the next three days, the researchers ran trials of the original scenario, which was repeated ten times but substituting a cashew nut for the pebble. All trials were captured on video and the process of tool manufacture and use was documented photographically (figure 1 or view larger):


Figure 1. Typical action sequence when manufacturing a larch splinter tool.

[DOI: 10.1016/j.cub.2012.09.002]

"Figaro made a new tool for every nut we placed there and each time the bird was successful in obtaining it", reports cognitive biologist Alice Auersperg of the University of Vienna, who led the study.

During these trials, Figaro used 10 tools, nine of which he manufactured and one of which was ready-made (figure 2 or view larger):


Figure 2. Manufacture and use of tools 1

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its been known for years that corvids and parrots are extremely smart, not surprised another species of them has been found to use tools

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So while humans get dumber animals are getting smarter. The turning point will be when animals start making fire.

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I've seen videos of birds using sticks to get at termites and other hard to reach snacks in the wild.

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Ladies and gentlemen: the protagonist of Mass Effect 4.

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