Are birds getting smarter? The New Caledonian crow has learnt to make compound tools

Are birds getting smarter? The New Caledonian crow has learnt to make compound tools

For the first time, New Caledonian crows have been observed to construct multi-part tools to reach food. In a study by Oxford University, they combined short sticks that interlocked to make a longer stick that could reach a nut. These crows, from the island of New Caledonia in the Pacific, are the only animals known to create and use tools apart from humans.

I can’t find a better resolution video but you get the idea

Humans only started making their own tools about 300,000 years ago and a human baby doesn’t acquire the ability to create tools until they are about 18 months old.

Few animals are capable of making and using tools, and also in human development the capacity only emerges late.

Oxford University, News, New Caledonian crows can create tools from multiple parts

The New Caledonian crows also use sticks to reach insects in branches, something apes also do. But they have begun to modify their tools by removing leaves and carving a hook on the end which makes them ten times more efficient. They then teach this technique to others.

New Caledonian Crows making hook tools.

The smartest bird in the world?

They may be able to construct tools, but the New Caledonian crow has competition for the smartest bird in the world. That title normally goes to the Kea, a type of parrot from New Zealand. Keas have the intelligence of a four year old (for reference, dogs have the intelligence of a two year old). They have incredible problem-solving skills and advanced social interaction, they even play with snowballs for fun!

One kea even learned that if it carried a piece of firewood to a hiking hut each day and then knocked on the door it would get food in exchange.

Naughty New Zealander Hailed as Smartest on the Planet
Apes have used stones as tools for thousands of years, but they don’t construct compound tools like New Caledonian crows

Except for a few observations in captive great apes, compound tool construction is unknown outside humans, and tool innovation appears late in human ontogeny. We report that habitually tool-using New Caledonian crows (*Corvus moneduloides) can combine objects to construct novel compound tools. 

Alex Kacelnik, Ph.D., a professor of behavioural ecology at the University of Oxford, co-authored this study.
Crows also have amazing problem-solving abilities. This crow solved an Crystal Maze-style puzzle using the weight of stones to unlock a tool to reach its prize.

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