CREATIVE COCKATOOS DESIGN AND MAKE THEIR OWN TOOLS
When cockatoos want to tool up, they get creative. Researchers at Oxford University have observed Goffin’s cockatoos cutting out tools from a sheet of cardboard and using them to retrieve out-of-reach nuts, suggesting that the birds can fashion objects with a specific design in mind.
Previously, the team had observed one bird, Figaro, biting long splinters out of the wooden beams of his cage and using them to rake pieces of food that lay beyond his reach. This was doubly surprising as Goffin’s cockatoos are not known to use tools in the wild – they don’t even use twigs to make nests.
However, as wood naturally splits into long, narrow splinters, it was impossible to say whether the bird was aiming to make a long raking tool or if the whole thing was just a happy accident.
To test this, the team placed a piece of food a few centimetres beyond a circular hole in the transparent wall of a box and gave Figaro and three other birds four different materials to produce suitable tools: larch wood, leafy beech twigs, cardboard and beeswax. Figaro and one other bird were able to produce effective tools with everything but the beeswax.
“To us, the tools made from cardboard were the most interesting ones, as this material was not pre-structured and required the birds to shape their tools more actively,” said researcher Alice Auersperg. “They succeeded by placing a large number of parallel bite marks along the edge of the material like a hole punch, using their curved upper beak to cut the elongated piece out of the cardboard block after reaching a certain length.”
The findings suggest that the birds are capable of individual creativity and problem-solving, say the researchers.