22 March 20123: Birds got brains

In part 4 of a thematic series of posts called Us, I said this about toolmaking:

‘It is with the application and development of tool usage that the first signs of a distinct ‘human’ culture are found in palaeoanthropology. Whereas chimps and some bird species, like humans, use tools made from plants to gather food or built shelter, humans are the first animals to make stone tools, improving on the original material through knapping.’[i]

Goffin’s cockatoo.
Image courtesy of Creative commons.

I short-changed chimps, it seems. Not only do they use tools, they use tool sets: in other words they prepare different tools for different jobs.[ii]

More surprisingly, I now discover that I also short-changed birds. I was pleasantly surprised by the new(ish) information about chimps, but astounded by the news[iii] that at least one species of bird – Goffin’s cockatoo[iv] from Indonesia – also makes and uses different tools for different jobs.

I shouldn’t be astounded, of course. In a much earlier post I wrote about research providing evidence that corvids possessed a Theory of Mind. And as the article in The Conversation points out, an Australian bird – the palm cockatoo – is already known to regularly make drumsticks to beat against hollow trunks during courtship. I suppose it’s not a giant leap from all that to learning that at least one non-avian dinosaur could do with a tool box to keep its implements tidy and dust-free.

It seems that Goffin’s cockatoo actually manufactures three different tools – for wedging, cutting and spooning.

Again, as the article points out, this means the cockatoo’s cognitive skills can be compared directly with a chimps. Importantly, they have ‘… been confirmed as the third species that can not only use tools, but can carry toolsets in anticipation of needing them later on.’

The original research paper leading to the article in The Conversation can be found here in the journal Current Biology.

[i] https://simonbrown.co/2022/02/28/28-february-2022-us-part-4-using-your-noggin/

[ii] https://www.nature.com/articles/srep34783#:~:text=In%20addition%2C%20chimpanzees%20use%20two,probe%20to%20fish%20for%20termites.

[iii] From this article in The Conversation:


[iv] Also known as the Tanimbar corella (Carcatua goffiniana).


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