Curious crows use tools to explore dangerous objects
By ELLA DAVIES - BBC - EARTH NEWS
Added: Fri, 14 Jan 2011 22:53:44 UTC
New Caledonian crows use tools to investigate unfamiliar and potentially dangerous objects, according to scientists.
New research shows crows cautiously investigating new objects using sticks as an extension of their beaks.
New Caledonian crows are known to fashion tools to access food sources such as wood-boring beetle larvae.
Scientists suggest this study is the first time birds have been recorded using tools for multiple purposes.
The findings are published in the journal Animal Cognition.
New Caledonian crows (Corvus moneduloides) are known for their intelligent and innovative use of "tools", such as twigs, to extract nutritious insects from hard to reach places.
Studies have also revealed that the crows will craft tools into more suitable shapes and use more than one in order to reach food.
To understand more about their behaviour, researchers from the University of Oxford, UK, introduced a group of crows to a variety of objects including a rubber snake, a flashing LED bike light and a tin of paint.
The research team aimed to study how the crows reacted to objects that were not associated with food.
To this end, researchers placed unfamiliar objects into the birds' aviaries without their knowledge to avoid any associations between human interaction and food.
"We presented our crows with a range of novel objects and found that some crows first contacted the objects with a tool, rather than their beak," explains Dr Jo Wimpenny.
Dr Wimpenny believes this behaviour shows a previously unrecorded use of tools in New Caledonian crows.
"The crows were using tools in an information-gathering context; i.e. in order to learn about the object which was novel, and therefore potentially dangerous, without making direct contact," she says.
"We might do the same if we were out walking in the woods and came across a strange object that we had never seen before - safer to prod it with a stick than with our fingers!"
New Caledonian crows are members of the corvid family which includes magpies, rooks and ravens.
With relatively large brains, corvids are considered highly intelligent but none demonstrate innovative problem-solving quite as complex as that of New Caledonian crows.
Scientists suggest that the crows could be regarded in even higher esteem: as the only birds that use tools for more than one purpose.
"Only a few species, other than humans, use tools to achieve multiple functions, so our observations are exciting because they suggest that New Caledonian crows may also qualify to join this small group," says Dr Wimpenny.
Dr Wimpenny explains that by using tools for more than one function, New Caledonian crows demonstrate that avian brains could be more complex than previously thought.
Hannah Krakauer - New Scientist Comments
Kanzi the bonobo is able to create and use stone tools
- - URMC Comments
Newer Imaging Technique Brings ‘Glymphatic System’ to Light
- - The Royal Society Comments
Research suggesting that grey parrots can reason about cause and effect from audio cues alone- a skill that monkeys and dogs lack- is presented in Proceedings of the Royal Society B today.
- - Science Blog Comments
Why, after millions of years of evolution, do organisms build structures that seemingly serve no purpose?
Charles Choi - CBS News Comments
Four decades ago, in 1972, the Koobi Fora Research Project discovered the enigmatic fossilized skull known as KNM-ER 1470 which ignited a now long-standing debate about how many different species of early Homos existed.
Adam Cole - NPR Comments
One day in May of 2011, Shaun Winterton was looking at pictures of bugs on the Internet when something unusual caught his eye. It was a close shot of a green lacewing — an insect he knew well — but on its wing was an unfamiliar network of black lines and a few flecks of blue.
MORE BY ELLA DAVIES
Ella Davies - BBC Nature 17 Comments
"This is the first study showing that birds can indeed transport a substantial [number of] micro land snails in their gut alive."