Clever Cockatoos Craft 3 Piece Fruit Extraction Tool Set – Become the only 4th animal species to do so
Truly amazing behavior has just been recorded in a pair of wild Goffin’s cockatoos, who, like expert bandits, have crafted an extensive three-piece set of tools to force their way through the pit of a mango.
Caught in the wild and held for a short time in a research aviary in Indonesia, it’s the kind of behavior that characterizes the animal kingdom’s most advanced tool users and solidifies Goffin’s cockatoo as the one of the main bird-brainiacs of the avian group.
Perhaps the most delightful part of this discovery is that it happened by chance, while Mark O’Hara and Berenika Mioduszewska were studying a new group of wild birds in their research aviary on Tanimbar Island. .
“I had just turned around, and when I looked back, one of the birds was making and using tools,” O’Hara, from the Messerli Research Institute in Vienna, Austria, told Science. “I could not believe my eyes !”
Prior to the capture of the sly cockatoos, O’Hara and Mioduszewska had spent 900 hours watching them feed high in the canopy without ever witnessing the use of tools.
A few other bird species, such as the New Caledonian crow and the hyacinth macaw, have been documented making stick tools and even hook tools.
Goffin’s cockatoos are well documented as intuitive social learners capable of solving a variety of problems and puzzles. The Messerli Institute has, in fact, shown how an individual was able to teach his comrades how to make and use tools. This, however, was only a tool, for one purpose.
This new sighting is the first time a bird species has been seen creating and using a set of tools in a specific order.
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The bird-headed bandit
While researching the cockatoos, the team regularly provided them with food they found on the island, including wawai, or sea mango, which is toxic to humans but nutritious to birds. In the center of the mango, a hard core protects a large nutritious seed.
For a moment it seemed like there was nothing special about the group of birds they were capturing, but two individuals, having put their talons in the pits, began to make not one, not two , but a set of three different tools to dig their way into the fruit core.
“Repeated intakes of fruit allowed us to analyze the behavior in detail, collecting and tracing some of the tools made,” O’Hara explains in a video summary. “Using a structure-from-motion technique, we were able to create 3D models and collect detailed measurements such as size and volume…[of the tools used]. Based on physical properties, functional analysis classified three types of tools; we discovered that each type of tool seemed to serve a different purpose.
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With a thicker section of branch, they used their beak to poke open one end of the pit, while with a second, medium-sized tool they pierced the membrane surrounding the seed. Finally, they made a tool in the form of a shovel which, operated with their mouths, allowed them to extract the seeds.
This manufacture of tool sets has been observed in humans, chimpanzees, and capuchin monkeys; full stop. Chimpanzees use between two and five tools for termite and hive raids.
Tool use has been proposed in the parrot line as having a strong captivity bias, so if the behavior was related to their time in the aviary or if they used tools in the wild, that’s something which O’Hara and Mioduszewska discuss in their Cell research paper. .
“If they had a genetic predisposition to use tools, all birds would,” O’Hara told Science. “Since only a few make them, it is more likely that they invented them independently”, which would be all the more likely since the two individuals displayed immediate and exceptional skill.
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They believe it is not species-wide but acquired by individuals through opportunistic innovations, or by observing and learning from others. A number of intriguing details emerge in the Discussion section, such as the fact that tools tended to be designed to specifications before use, rather than through a process of trial and error.
Another detail is that around the island they had found fruit under wawai trees that looked like they had been foraged with tools. One actually contained a fragment of wood inserted into the crack in the pit, which, given enough years to pass, could be the very first example of “avian archaeology”.
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O’Hara and Mioduszewska’s article is filled with stunning videos to watch, and can be viewed here for free.
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