Image of the Day: Bird Brain

Goffin’s cockatoos customize tools to accommodate a specific need.

Nov 12, 2018
Shawna Williams
A Goffin’s cockatoo tears a strip of cardboard for use as a tool.
GOFFIN LAB, UNIVERSITY OF VETERINARY MEDICINE VIENNA

Goffin’s cockatoos (Cacatua goffiniana) make and use simple tools, and, it turns out, they can even tailor these implements to the task at hand. In a study published last week (November 7) in PLOS One, researchers set up a box with food inside and a small hole, and gave the parrots cardboard they could use to make a tool to reach the reward. The birds tended to make longer tools in situations where they were needed because the food was farther away, the scientists found. But most of the Goffin’s cockatoos in the study were limited in how much they could adjust the width of the cardboard to accommodate a smaller opening—perhaps, the researchers write, because their cardboard-shearing technique makes it difficult to make narrower strips. 

A.M.I. Auerspring, “Tool making cockatoos adjust the lengths but not the widths of their tools to function,” PLOS One, https://doi.org/10.1371/journal.pone.0205429, 2018.