Check out Figaro, a Goffin's cockatoo that was reared in captivity near Vienna. This species of bird is not known for making tools in the wild, so the behavior captured in this video comes as a complete surprise. Figaro can be seen to spontaneously fashion tools from objects like wooden beams and branches to rake in objects out of its reach. His ability to do this — despite any prior knowledge or experience with tools — shows just how complex and adaptable bird intelligence really is.
The observation was made by Alice Auersperg of the University of Vienna, whose study now appears in Current Biology. Auersperg was inspired to conduct the experiment after watching Figaro use a stick to pull in a pebble that had fallen just outside his reach.
Speaking through a release, Auersperg describes what happened next:
To investigate this further we later placed a nut where the pebble had been and started to film. To our astonishment he did not go on searching for a stick but started biting a large splinter out of the aviary beam. He cut it when it was just the appropriate size and shape to serve as a raking tool to obtain the nut.
It was already a surprise to see him use a tool, but we certainly did not expect him to make one by himself. From that time on, Figaro was successful on obtaining the nut every single time we placed it there, nearly each time making new tools. On one attempt he used an alternative solution, breaking a side arm off a branch and modifying the leftover piece to the appropriate size for raking.
The researchers' observation shows that some birds, even those who don't use tools in the wild, have the requisite cognitive and physical skills required to do so. Alongside corvids, cockatoos can now be added to the list of birds capable of spontaneous tool innovation.
Image: University of Oxford.