COCKATOOS ARE SKILFUL SHAPE-SORTERS
Who’s a clever boy, then? Goffin’s cockatoos, a species of small parrot native to Australasia, have been shown to have similar shape-recognition abilities to a human two-year-old.
Though not known to use tools in wild, the birds have proved adept at tool use in captivity. In a recent experiment at the University of Vienna and the University of Veterinary Medicine Vienna, cockatoos were presented with box with a nut inside it. The clear front of the box had a ‘keyhole’ in a geometric shape, and the birds were given five differently shaped ‘keys’ to choose from. Inserting the correct ‘key’ would release the nut.
In humans, babies can put a round shape in a round hole from around one year of age, but it will be another year before they’re able to do the same with less symmetrical shapes such as squares, triangles or crosses. This ability to recognise that a shape will need to be rotated into a specific orientation before it will fit is called an ‘allocentric frame of reference’. In the tests in Vienna, the Goffin’s cockatoos were able to select the right tool for the job, in most cases, by visual recognition alone. Where trial-and-error was involved, the cockatoos fared better than apes and monkeys have in similar tests.
“This indicates that [Goffin’s cockatoos] do indeed possess an allocentric frame of reference when moving objects in space, similar to twoyear-old toddlers,” said Alice Auersperg, head of the Goffin lab at the University of Veterinary Medicine Vienna.
The next step, say the researchers, is to try and work out whether the cockatoos rely entirely on visual clues, or also use a sense of touch in making their shape selections.
Above: Goffin’s cockatooshave shape-recognition abilities akin to those of ahuman two-year-old