Cockatoos can combine tools to complete complex tasks

They might not have screwdrivers or drills, but a stick and a straw make a cockatoo handy.

A recent study published in the journal Current Biology revealed that Goffin’s cockatoos, white parrots from Indonesia, are able to figure out how to use a tool, select the most suitable one for a job and even transport tools together before attempting to use them.

Researchers from Austria and the UK made the discovery after conducting three experiments on 10 birds.

The animals were chosen after scientists spotted them using a “tool set” in the wild, CNN reported.

“We’ve seen them use a complex tool set (in the wild), but we did not know if they were aware they were using one, or if it was just a chain of single tool uses in a sequence,” Antonio Osuna Mascaró, biologist at the University of Veterinary Medicine Vienna and lead study author, told the outlet.

According to the study, chimpanzees were observed as the only non-human animal known to use a toolkit.

The test consists of the primates carrying two tools, to pierce a hole in the top of a termite mound with one, and put another inside the mound to draw out the bugs inside.

Inspired by the tool kit test, Dr Osuna Mascaró and his team set out a similar experiment on the brainy birds.

“We gave them a problem in which they had to fish cashews out of a box, by first poking a hole in the membrane that blocked it with a short, pointy stick and then getting it out with a longer, flexible stick,” he said.

In the first experiment, the cockatoos figured out how to use the two tools very quickly, with one taking just 31 seconds.

Four cockatoos failed to successfully complete the first study. One bird dropped out after showing no interest.

The remaining five moved to the next stage which focused on tool use flexibility – whether the cockatoos would choose the suitable tools for the right job.

The feathered creatures were given a box that required either a single tool or two tools to extract the nuts. They passed.

The final experiment evaluated whether the birds can carry one tool at a time or saved energy by taking both together.

Researchers discovered that four cockatoos were able to transport both tools together when needed, even when flying, with three birds “remarkably” managing it consistently.

“With this experiment we can say that, like chimpanzees, Goffin’s cockatoos not only appear to be using tool sets, but they know that they are using tool sets,” Dr Osuna Mascaró said.

The expert said the discovery shows the cockatoos plan their tool use according to the requirements of the situation.

Dr Osuna Mascaró said the study is the start of looking at their cognitive abilities.

Discussing the next steps, the scientist said comparing the birds to human children would be a possible approach.

“We noticed that each cockatoo had a different way of carrying and using the tool sets, which is interesting because cockatoos learned it through play and being curious, like humans do,” he said.

Originally published as Cockatoos can combine tools to complete complex tasks, study reveals

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