Viewers of the accompanying video might initially wonder why the person doesn’t just give the cockatoo its nuts, rather than make the poor bird work painstakingly for its meal. But what’s astonishing is that the bird, a captive-bred Goffin’s cockatoo named Figaro, possesses the skills to craft a tool, and use it to achieve its objective. Researchers in Austria, who recorded Figaro breaking splinters and using them to rake in nuts, believe this is the first documented instance of tool-making among parrots.
The study was conducted at an aviary in Vienna, by scientists from the University of Oxford, the University of Vienna, and the Max-Planck-Institute for Ornithology in Germany. Results were published recently in the journal Current Biology.
BBC Nature featured the story Tuesday and quoted Oxford University Professor Alex Kacelnik as saying, “No one has ever reported [a parrot] sculpturing a tool out of shapeless wood in order to use it later with great sophistication.”
Some types of crows have been known to make and utilize tools, but not parrots.
Researchers stumbled upon Figaro’s special talent after the bird had knocked a pebble it had been playing with out of reach. Figaro picked up a stick from the aviary floor and, with the stick levered in his beak, began to probe for the pebble.
Researchers then began a series of tests involving the placement of nuts just beyond Figaro’s reach, outside the bird’s wire enclosure.
Figaro first tried a stick, but it was too short. So he solved the problem by biting, from a wooden beam, a splinter that proved to be long enough to rake the nut to within reach.
He completed this task 10 times over a three-day period and, researchers say, he became quicker toward the end of the trials period.
“It’s almost as if he discovered a solution and then managed to apply it,” Kacelnik said.
Actually, it looks as though that’s precisely what Figaro accomplished. The bird must really love those nuts.