"Who’s a Clever Boy Then?" Cockatoos Filmed Making Wooden Tools to Reach Food
The term ‘bird-brained’ may require a rethink after some clever Cockatoos were filmed making and using tools in a laboratory in Austria.
The birds was given a small flat piece of wood after being placed in front of a cage containing a nut.
The feathered friends first tried to get the nut with the wood, which was far too large for the job and couldn’t fit through the gaps in the cage. It was a savvy cockatoo called Fiagro who first realised something smaller was needed, and began to craft smaller sticks . To investigate if other cockatoos could learn this behaviour through observation, researchers showcased Figaro as a ‘role model’ to one group of birds, who watched him sculpting the tool in this way. Another group were shown the same technique but without Figaro, using magnets. It was found that the cockatoos who witnessed Figaro’s demonstration picked up the skills needed more quickly.
The birds who copied Figaro’s technique then refined his approach to obtaining the nut from a slow raking to a speedy and more efficient flick.
Professor Alex Kacelnik of Oxford University, who was involved in the experiment explains: ‘There is a substantial difference between repeating a teacher’s behaviour and emulating his or her achievements while creating one’s own methods. The latter implies a creative process stimulated by a social interaction, while the former could, at least potentially, rely on simpler imitation.The cockatoos seem to emulate and surpass their teacher, which is what all good professors hope for from their best students.’
Dr Alice Auersperg - who led the study at the Goffin Lab at the University of Vienna - concludes: ‘This is typical of what psychologists would call emulation learning.’
The research was published in the journal Proceedings of the Royal Society B.
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