Who’s a clever cock­a­too?

The Southland Times - - Front Page -

Cock­a­toos are known for their in­tel­li­gence, hav­ing pre­vi­ously demon­strated the abil­ity to pick locks, match shapes and even ride minia­ture bi­cy­cles along a tightrope.

But now sci­en­tists have dis­cov­ered they are far clev­erer, ri­valling apes and hu­man four-year-olds in their abil­ity to in­vent and fash­ion com­plex tools to reach food.

Aus­trian sci­en­tists spent years test­ing the abil­i­ties of Gof­fin’s cock­a­toos named Dolit­tle, Fi­garo, Kiwi, Kon­rad, Pipin and Fini at a lab­o­ra­tory in Vi­enna.

Now they have demon­strated the birds are ca­pa­ble of siz­ing-up the length of pok­ing de­vice needed to reach seeds through a hole in a per­spex box, and then make it from a piece of card­board. Even when sci­en­tists moved the seeds closer to the hole, the cock­a­toos took a quick glance then de­signed a smaller tool that saved ef­fort.

‘‘The way the an­i­mals show flex­i­bil­ity in their tool­mak­ing be­hav­iour be­tween dif­fer­ent dis­tances, sug­gests that they at least learn to pay at­ten­tion to dif­fer­ent con­di­tions’’ said Dr Alice Auersperg, of the Univer­sity of Vi­enna, the head of the Gof­fin Lab.

‘‘As longer card­board strips re­quired more par­al­lel bitemarks we have a con­tin­u­ous in­crease in in­vest­ment in the man­u­fac­ture of longer tools and it is likely that the an­i­mals were able to save ef­fort.

Nev­er­the­less, they did even­tu­ally fall into a strat­egy of mak­ing long tools most of the time as they be­came more ef­fi­cient or as a strat­egy of avoid­ing the risk of hav­ing to dis­card a tool of in­suf­fi­cient size. It has been shown that par­rots and corvids [the crow fam­ily] of­ten ri­val the great apes in per­for­mance in cog­ni­tive tasks and they also seem to have sim­i­lar neu­ron counts in the cor­tex-like ar­eas of their brains as higher pri­mates.’’

Only very few an­i­mal species, such as the great apes and a few birds, can use or even make their own tools to fish for out-of-reach food. Chim­panzees are known to use sticks to poke into ter­mite mounts, while crows can bend metal hooks to reach food at the bot­tom of a bot­tle.

How­ever, mak­ing dif­fer­ent tools for dif­fer­ent sit­u­a­tions rep­re­sents a big­ger cog­ni­tive chal­lenge. Ex­perts think Gof­fin’s cock­a­toos have de­vel­oped such abil­i­ties be­cause they are is­land birds, na­tive to In­done­sia, where they feed on a va­ri­ety of foods and have de­vised a range of strate­gies to get their din­ner. – Tele­graph Group


A Gof­fin cock­a­too tears off a strip of card­board to use as a tool to reach food.

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