Alice Auersperg of the University of Vienna said she was surprised when a captive cockatoo named Figaro was seen using a tool to help him obtain an object. When researchers saw him actually make a tool, they were stunned.
According to University of Oxford’s announcement regarding the research, which has now been published in the journal Current Biology, the scientists are unsure just how Figaro ever learned to make a tool, but hope it will shed light on the “evolution of intelligence.”
Here’s how the team witnessed Figaro’s new skill, according to Auersperg:
“During our daily observation protocols, Figaro was playing with a small stone. At some point he inserted the pebble through the cage mesh, and it fell just outside his reach. After some unsuccessful attempts to reach it with his claw, he fetched a small stick and started fishing for his toy.
“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.”
Watch Figaro make his tools:
Oxford University professor Alex Kacelnik said that Figaro is the only known one in his species to exhibit such tool-making capabilities, but crows have been observed to do similar things. Kacelnik said a crow named Betty made hooks out of wire to obtain food out of reach.
Still, Kacelnik said researchers are “struggling to identify the cognitive operations that make these deeds possible.”
With observations from these birds, Kacelnik hopes it may help scientists “unlock many unknowns in the evolution of intelligence.”