Self-care tooling innovation in a disabled kea (Nestor notabilis)

By Amalia P. M. Bastos, Kata Horváth, Jonathan L. Webb, Patrick M. Wood & Alex H. Taylor: For Complete Post, click here…

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Tooling is associated with complex cognitive abilities, occurring most regularly in large-brained mammals and birds. Among birds, self-care tooling is seemingly rare in the wild, despite several anecdotal reports of this behavior in captive parrots.

Here, we show that Bruce, a disabled parrot lacking his top mandible, deliberately uses pebbles to preen himself. Evidence for this behavior comes from five lines of evidence: (i) in over 90% of instances where Bruce picked up a pebble, he then used it to preen; (ii) in 95% of instances where Bruce dropped a pebble, he retrieved this pebble, or replaced it, in order to resume preening; (iii) Bruce selected pebbles of a specific size for preening rather than randomly sampling available pebbles in his environment; (iv) no other kea in his environment used pebbles for preening; and (v) when other individuals did interact with stones, they used stones of different sizes to those Bruce preened with.

Our study provides novel and empirical evidence for deliberate self-care tooling in a bird species where tooling is not a species-specific behavior. It also supports claims that tooling can be innovated based on ecological necessity by species with sufficiently domain-general cognition.

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