Corvids: whip-smart birdbrains
New experiments by Oxford University scientists reveal that New Caledonian crows can spontaneously use up to three tools in the correct sequence to achieve a goal, something never before observed in non-human animals without explicit training.
Sequential tool use has often been interpreted as evidence for advanced cognitive abilities, such as planning and analogical reasoning, but this has never been explicitly examined.
The researchers set out to investigate what the crows really understood about the tasks and their own actions with tools. A report of their research appears in the journal PLoS One.
In the wild, New Caledonian crows use a range of tool types for extracting invertebrate prey from holes and crevices, and in captivity, they have been shown to make, or select, tools to retrieve food rewards. In previous experiments, the Oxford team reported that a crow (named ‘Betty’) was capable of spontaneously inventing new tool designs according to what was required by the tasks. In all these cases, however, objects were used to act on pieces of food.
Betty (above) earned her spotlight in August 2002, and she lived in captivity until 2008. RIP, Betty.
Much more information about the New Caledonian Crows at Oxford University appears here. You even can watch movies of Betty choosing tools.