BBC Earth (Asia) - - Update -

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.

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