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Cockatoos Learn to Use Tools by Watching Each Other

With a teacher, Goffin cockatoo learn to use new tools more quickly

smithsonian.com

Meet Figaro. Figaro is a Goffin's cockatoo, a species native to Indonesia. These cockatoos are known in science as clever little birds with an ability to solve complex problems. As you can see above, Figaro has figured out how to use a stick to get treats that are otherwise out of reach.

Figaro's stick-handling behavior isn't normal for Goffin's cockatoo, says John Timmer at Ars Techica. Instead, it's something the bird had to teach himself:

Figaro's environment, which features lots of wired mesh, apparently drove him to some novel behaviors. He was observed splitting off splinters from wooden material, and the bird used them to retrieve objects (generally food or toys) that were on the wrong side of the wire. Figaro was making tools.

But apparently not only are Goffin's cockatoo great problem solvers, they're also pretty good students. In a study where researchers had other Goffin cockatoo watch Figaro at work, they found that the other birds could pick up Figaro's hard-earned skills without much delay. According to the research, though, says Timmer, the birds weren't just playing copy cat:

This behavior is not normally seen in Goffin's cockatoos, and it was only picked up after repeated observations. Perhaps more significantly, the behavior wasn't merely imitated; instead, the birds appeared to get the concept of using tools following Figaro's demonstration and developed their own, distinctive method of manipulating them.

At the end of the video above you can see other cockatoo use a variation on the skill Figaro developed. In their study, the scientists found that, though the Goffin cockatoo can figure out the skills independently, they do so much more easily with a demonstration first:

About Colin Schultz
Colin Schultz

Colin Schultz is a freelance science writer and editor based in Toronto, Canada. He blogs for Smart News and contributes to the American Geophysical Union. He has a B.Sc. in physical science and philosophy, and a M.A. in journalism.

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