Cockatoo shows tool-making skills

Watch a Goffin's cockatoo using a "tool" to reach food

Related Stories

A captive-bred Goffin's cockatoo has surprised researchers by spontaneously making and using "tools" to reach food.

The species is not known to use tools in the wild.

Researchers in Austria recorded the cockatoo - named Figaro - repeatedly breaking off splinters from a wooden beam and using them to reach nuts on the other side of his wire enclosure.

The team believe Figaro's feat is the first recorded instance of tool-making among parrots.

The study, published in the journal Current Biology, was carried out at an aviary near Vienna by scientists from the University of Oxford; the University of Vienna and the Max-Planck-Institute for Ornithology in Germany.

Nature's tool-users and makers:

Carrion crow

See clever carrion crows use traffic to crack hard nuts

Find out how innovative finches extract grubs from trees

See elephants working together to retrieve a tasty treat

Discover how resourceful orangutans can be when put to the test

"No-one has ever reported [a parrot] sculpturing a tool out of shapeless wood in order to use it later with great sophistication," said Professor Alex Kacelnik of Oxford University, an author of the study.

While birds from the corvid family, such as New Caledonian crows, are known to make tools in the wild, this specialised ability is very rarely reported in other bird species.

Researchers were unexpectedly alerted to Figaro's tool-using ability while he was playing with a pebble and accidentally dropped it out of reach on the other side of his wire mesh enclosure.

After some unsuccessful attempts to reach his toy with his claw, Figaro used a stick from the aviary floor to try to fish for the object, levering it with his beak.

The team then carried out a series of tests that involved placing nuts outside the cockatoo's enclosure, and video-recorded the results.

Figaro the cockatoo using a stick for a tool Figaro's tool-making speed improved across the trials.

In the first test, Figaro tried unsuccessfully to reach the nut with a stick that was too short.

He then made his own tool by biting large splinters from a wooden beam. When they were the right size and shape to use as a "raking" tool, he would use them to successfully collect the nuts.

The team repeated the exercise in 10 trials over three days. Figaro was successful each time in making and using tools to retrieve the nut.

The time that it took the cockatoo to manufacture suitable tools also improved over the course of the tests.

"It's almost as if he discovered a solution and then managed to apply it," Prof Kacelnik told BBC Nature.

But he added: "Nobody yet understands in what sense tool-use requires a very high level of intelligence."

While Figaro is alone among Goffin's cockatoos to have been recorded making and using tools, Prof Kacelnik says that his behaviour could display a "level of intelligence for solving a new problem" in the species.

Join BBC Nature on Facebook and Twitter @BBCNature.

More on This Story

Related Stories

The BBC is not responsible for the content of external Internet sites

More from nature

  • Cardinal fish and ostracodFish filmed spitting 'fireworks'

    Film crew captures ostracods' spectacular defensive lightshow that makes predatory fish spit them out.

  • Arapaima'Locally extinct'

    A giant fish which used to dominate the Amazon river is now absent in many areas

  • DragonflyRapid reactions

    Dragonfly's super quick reactions recorded in slow motion by BBC film-makers

  • Wingless adult male of the midge Belgica antarcticaExtreme survivor

    Antarctic midge's small genome may be an adaptation to its extreme environment

  • Myotis midastactus specimen (previously identified as Myotis simus)Golden discovery

    A bat from Bolivia is described as a new species by scientists

  • Dinosaurs 'shrank' to become birds

    Huge meat-eating, land-living dinosaurs evolved into birds by constantly shrinking for over 50 million years, new research shows.

  • Would we starve without bees?

    Honey bees are under threat, and as pollination significantly contributes to the food we eat, what would we do without them?

  • Eggshells may act like 'sunblock'

    Birds' eggs show adaptations in pigment concentration and thickness to allow the right amount of sun for embryos, scientists say.

  • Female shrimps are more aggressive

    Female snapping shrimps are more aggressive than males when defending their territories despite their smaller claw size, a study shows.

BBC iWonder

  • Honey bee close-upInsect intelligence

    Are honey bees as smart as your sat nav?

  • Tyrannosaurus rex skull (c) Mark Williamson / Science Photo LibraryDinosaur dynasty

    One group of dinosaurs survived and their descendants can be seen all around us today

  • Brown rat cluse upRise of the rodent

    Reports of giant, 'super rats' are filling the headlines. But why are we being overrun by rats?

  • Cuckoo portraitHoliday hotspot

    What makes the UK such an attractive destination for visiting wildlife?

There have been 75 solar eclipses and 167 major volcanic eruptions in my lifetime

Nicole Malliotakis on Twitter comments on the events that have happened since she was born by using our personalised Your Life on Earth interactive infographic.

Get Inspired


More Nature Activities >

Copyright © 2015 BBC. The BBC is not responsible for the content of external sites. Read more.

This page is best viewed in an up-to-date web browser with style sheets (CSS) enabled. While you will be able to view the content of this page in your current browser, you will not be able to get the full visual experience. Please consider upgrading your browser software or enabling style sheets (CSS) if you are able to do so.