Study shows Cock­a­toos can in­vent and use tools

The Witness - - NEWS -

COCK­A­TOOS are even clev­erer than they were known to be, match­ing apes and hu­man fouryear-olds.

Aus­trian sci­en­tists have spent years test­ing the abil­i­ties of six Gof­fin’s cock­a­toos — named Dolit­tle, Fi­garo, Kiwi, Kon­rad, Pipin and Fini — at a spe­cial lab­o­ra­tory in Vi­enna. Cock­a­toos are known to be able to pick locks and match shapes, but the sci­en­tists have now shown that the birds are ca­pa­ble of work­ing out how to tear card­board into long strips as tools to reach food. What they couldn’t do was ad­just the strip width to fit through nar­row open­ings.

The Gof­fin’s cock­a­too (Ca­catua goffini­ana) is a type of par­rot. Cap­tive Goffins are ca­pa­ble of in­vent­ing and ma­nip­u­lat­ing tools, even though they aren’t known to use tools ha­bit­u­ally.

The au­thors of the new study in­ves­ti­gated two ques­tions: do Goffins ad­just tool prop­er­ties to save ef­fort, and if so, how ac­cu­rately can they ad­just tool di­men­sions for the task?

The au­thors sup­plied six adult cock­a­toos with large card­board sheets to tear into strips as tools for the test­ing ap­pa­ra­tus: a food plat­form with a food re­ward set at vary­ing dis­tances (4-16 cm) be­hind a small open­ing, which also var­ied in width (1-2 cm).

They found that the Goffins were ca­pa­ble of ad­just­ing the length of their card­board strip tools to ac­count for vari­a­tions in food dis­tance, mak­ing shorter tools when the re­ward was closer than when it was set far­ther away. In ev­ery case, if a first-at­tempt tool was too short, the sec­ond-at­tempt tool would be sig­nif­i­cantly longer.

On av­er­age, all six birds made sig­nif­i­cantly longer tools than were re­quired to reach the re­ward in all test con­di­tions, with the birds tend­ing to make in­creas­ingly long tools as the study pro­gressed — per­haps as a risk-avoid­ance strat­egy.

How­ever, only one bird was able to make a suf­fi­ciently-nar­row tool to suc­cess­fully reach the food re­ward when the open­ing was at its nar­row­est.

The au­thors hy­poth­e­sise that the shear­ing tech­nique the birds use to tear the card­board lim­its the nar­row­ness of the re­sult­ing strips.

The au­thors sug­gest that fu­ture stud­ies pro­vide less re­stric­tive ma­te­ri­als to as­sess whether Goffins are cog­ni­tively ca­pa­ble of ad­just­ing tool width in this sit­u­a­tion.

—, Wit­ness Re­porter.

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