Written by Mike McRae
Around 15 years ago, a New Caledonian crow named Betty amazed scientists with her talent for tool-building. That was nothing – wait until your meet these clever cockatoos.
There’s no doubting that birds like crows and parrots are smart animals. But when scientists put Betty the New Caledonian crow to the test in 2002, they were stunned to find she could bend pieces of wire into hooks to retrieve food.
This raised an interesting question – was Betty using her imagination, or was her brain hard-wired to use materials in her environment to dig for food?
Researchers in Vienna recently gave another brainy bird – the Goffin’s cockatoo – the same challenge. They presented 13 of the birds with some pipe-cleaners and tubes containing tasty treats.
None of the birds solved the problem first go, and some needed a bit of prompting. But most of the birds soon found a way to reach the treats in at least one of the tests.
“These findings are surprising, as our cockatoos are neither specialised to tool-assisted foraging, as the New Caledonian crows, nor are they bending sticks during nest construction, but breed in pre-existing tree holes,” says researcher Dr Alice Auersperg.
Crows usually bend materials to build nests, so it was entirely possible that Betty’s pre-programmed knack for stick-fiddling helped her out. Since Goffin’s cockatoos don’t tend to use sticks in construction, it’s likely that they had to invent a solution to the puzzle.
Who’s a clever cocky then?
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