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Cockatoos select the right key to insert into a 'keyhole'


The Goffin's cockatoo is not a specialised tool user in the wild but has shown the capacity to invent and use different types of tools in captivity.

Now cognitive biologists from the University of Vienna and the University of Veterinary Medicine Vienna tested these parrots in a tool use task, requiring the birds to move objects in relation to a surface. The animals had to choose the correct "key" to insert into a "keyhole" in a box, aligning its shape to the shape of a surface cutout inside the box during insertion. The parrots were not only able to select the correct key but also required fewer placement attempts to align simple shapes than primates in a similar study. "We used a box with an exchangeable, transparent front featuring a shaped hole at its centre. When an object was successfully inserted through the hole, a collapsible platform inside the box released a tasty nut at the lower end" says Cornelia Habl who conducted the study at the Goffin Lab in Vienna.[read more]

The keybox: Shape-frame fitting during tool use in Goffin’s cockatoos (Cacatua goffiniana): Cornelia Habl, Alice Auersperg. Plos ONE, 2017. DOI 10.1371/journal.pone.0186859

Cockatoo selects the right key to insert into the keyhole shape for a reward of a nut. (c) Bene Croy