February 11, 2023

Smart cockatoo uses tools in succession (toolset) to get his cashew nut

This is a study which proved that the Goffin’s cockatoo is able to use a tool set or a toolkit which shows a high degree of intelligence. What is a tool set scientifically speaking? It is the use of two or more different kinds of tools which carry out different functions applied to the same goal.

In other words, these parrots had to decide that in order to get at a cashew nut they had to carry two tools knowing that one tool would achieve the first part of the task and the other tool would get at the cashew nut and retrieve it. This requires a degree of planning. It also requires a degree of assessment of what the problems are and what tool will deal with a particular problem in sequence.

Cockatoo uses two implements - a toolkit - to carry out a task

Cockatoo uses two implements – a toolkit – to carry out a task. Screenshot.

Only two non-human species have been described as using toolsets in the wild beyond the anecdotal i.e. beyond nonscientific studies and these two species are chimpanzees and Goffin’s cockatoos. You see the latter performing this task using a tool set in the video.

This is a trimmed down version to get a feel for the task and their behaviour. This is the end of the video which was too long to present in its entirety here.

And I believe that this is the first time that a parrot has been seen to carry a set of tools because previous to this study it was only thought that chimpanzees and humans knew how to use a tool set.

Goffin’s cockatoos live on the Tanimbar Islands in Indonesia. They are known to be one of the smartest birds and I guess indeed animals. But this study confirms it and places the species in an elite group of two in terms of intelligence.

In the wild they’d been seen to use three types of tool: twigs of different thickness and shapes in succession. The objective in the wild is to pierce different layers of a single fruit to enable them to reach the seeds inside.

Their intelligent wild behaviour clearly gave the researchers the idea of testing it under a study. It seems that this cockatoo species had already developed these intelligent toolset skills.

It wasn’t clear before the test whether they regarded the implements as a set. The test involved retrieving a cashew nut behind a transparent membrane. In order to reach the cashew, they had to punch through the membrane with one tool, a pointed stick, and then knocked the cashew nut of a pedestal with the other tool which appears to be a pink straw.

They tested 10 cockatoos of which seven figured out how to get the cashew nut. Two of them completed the task within 35 seconds on the first attempt.

Their behaviour was particularly impressive because they don’t use this kind of foraging tactic in the wild. This was a new task and a new problem to overcome. And they had to apply their intelligence to do it.

In order to test them thoroughly on whether they knew they wanted use it toolset they made the problem more and more difficult to the point where they are had to use two tools in succession to achieve their goal.

Antonio Osuma-Mascaro, an evolutionary biologist at the University of veterinary medicine Vienna, who led the study, said:

“With this experiment we can say that like chimpanzees Goffin’s cockatoos not only appear to be using toolsets, but they know that they are using toolsets. Their flexibility of behaviour is stunning.”

A colleague, Dr. Alice Auersperg, also of the University of Veterinary Medicine Vienna said:

“In terms of technical cognition and tool use, parrots have been underestimated and understudied.”

Below are some pages on animal intelligence.

Dolphins see greater gains with mates

Dolphins can make strategic cross-group alliances

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We need a proper test for consciousness in animals

Humans need a test for animal consciousness

Humans are learning that animals are smarter than we thought they were. This is leading to greater sensitivity and respect ...
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Whisky. A clever clogs

Dog intelligence varies and some dogs learn many words

The intelligence of the domestic dog varies considerably. We know this because some clever dogs can quickly learn human words ...
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Elephants can catch a yawn from humans

Elephants can catch a yawn from humans

Contagious yawning between animals is common apparently. However, it is rare for animals to "catch a yawn" from a human ...
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