Tool-making cockatoo stuns scientists

Andrew Duffy, ninemsn
4:55pm November 6, 2012

A captive-bred cockatoo has stunned scientists by fashioning small tools to help it reach food placed just out of reach.

The Goffin Cockatoo, named Figaro, has been filmed breaking off splinters from a wooden beam to help it reach nuts placed on the other side of its wire enclosure, according to the BBC.

Researchers from the University of Oxford said such toolmaking was "exceedingly rare" in the animal kingdom, and had not previously been observed among parrots.

"No-one has ever reported (a parrot) sculpturing a tool out of shapeless wood in order to use it later with great sophistication," said Oxford University professor Alex Kacelnik, one of the study's authors.

Researchers were first alerted to Figaro's ability after a student noticed him playing with a pebble.

When the pebble fell on to the other side of his enclosure, the bird used a stick to try and reach the toy.

Researchers from the University of Oxford, the University of Vienna and the Max Planck Institute for Ornithology later carried out similar tests with nuts at an aviary near Vienna and filmed the results.

In the first test Figaro tried unsuccessfully using his claw to reach the nut, but after dozens of trials over three days the bird began building tools to successfully retrieve the food.

"He'd never seen a tool like this, yet when he needed on, he made it," Mr Kacelnik said.

Researchers said the mental processes behind Figaro's ability were still not understood, but they hoped in time to gain a better understanding via experiments with him and other cockatoos.

Source: BBC, American Association for the Advancement of Science, Current Biology
Author: Andrew Duffy. Approving editor: Nick Pearson.

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