Cockatoos can do more than talk, fly and apply their own makeup. Researchers at the University of Veterinary Medicine in Vienna and the University of Oxford recently discovered that these feathery friends can make and wield tools with impressive accuracy, an ability that was previously unheard of within the species.
Although it might be a while yet before cockatoos can manipulate hammers and skill saws (how cute would that be?), they are capable of handling a variety of materials to achieve a goal. Like most humans, they perform better when motivated by food! The researchers challenged the birds to get a close, but slightly out-of-reach piece of food using provided materials (larch wood, leafy beech twigs, cardboard and beeswax). All required some form of manipulation in order to be useful in the pursuit of yum-yums.
Unsurprisingly, shapeless beeswax failed miserably, but the other materials were all used with great success. Specifically, the birds trimmed the leafy beech twigs of leaves and extra branches, tore the larch wood into strips and easily cut the cardboard using their sharp little beaks. Then they poked the tool through a hole in a container to knock the food down a ramp and into their reach.
The researchers don't yet know the specifics about how the birds' brains operate, but it's clear that they're natural problem solvers. "Studying tool-making in species like the Goffin's cockatoo, which does not make tools naturally, is especially revealing, as these birds cannot do it by following pre-programmed instructions," explains co-author Alex Kacelnik in a press release. "Now it seems plausible that they can imagine which object would allow them to solve a new problem and go on to build it. I am sure that they will keep surprising us." No one will be surprised when HGTV or the DIY Network comes a-calling, however. The camera loves these birds!