Parrot From New Zealand Successfully Learnt On How To Use Tools For Self-Care

Bruce the kea. (Patrick Wood/University of Auckland)
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Bruce the kea. (Patrick Wood/University of Auckland)

Highlights

  • For biologists, this is extremely intriguing because it is both the first scientific observation of a kea using a tool for self-care.
  • Despite some anecdotal instances of this behaviour in captive parrots, self-care tooling appears to be rare in the wild among birds.

A parrot with just half a beak, it appears that this in Bruce, a crippled New Zealand kea (Nestor notabilis) at the Willowbank Wildlife Reserve in Christchurch, has been preening himself with tiny small pebbles, according to biologists.
For biologists, this is extremely intriguing because it is both the first scientific observation of a kea using a tool for self-care and the first scientific observation of a bird utilising a stone in this fashion.
Despite some anecdotal instances of this behaviour in captive parrots, self-care tooling appears to be rare in the wild among birds, the researchers write in their new paper.
They illustrate here how Bruce, a crippled parrot missing his top jaw, preens himself with stones.
Preening may appear to be a pointless exercise for a parrot, yet it is essential for bird health and feather care. Preening assists birds in removing dust, grime, and parasites, as well as aligning feathers for optimal insulation, waterproofing, and aerodynamics.
It also ensures that they present themselves in the best light for potential partners.
Kea, an endangered parrot species located only on New Zealand's South Island usually preen themselves using their powerful beaks.
However, Bruce was discovered in the wild as a juvenile in 2013, terribly damaged and missing the top half of his beak. Although his caregivers aren't sure how this happened, they assume it was caused by a bug trap.
However, without a real beak to groom himself with, you'd imagine Bruce might look a little scruffy. Bruce, on the other hand, has adjusted quite well to life without a top beak, relying instead on a number of gadgets, such as pebbles wedged between his bottom beak and his tongue, to assist him with these chores.
An individual's ability to invent a tool in response to their disability demonstrates their intelligence. They have the ability to adapt and tackle new challenges as they arise Amalia Basto, an animal cognitive researcher, is one of the study's authors.
He picked up pebbles that were different from those picked up by other kea since they were all the same size. This indicates that he was attempting to preen himself without using the top portion of his beak.
When the keepers first observed Bruce's fondness for stones in 2019, they acted quickly. They observed him for nine days, finding plenty of evidence that he was using the tool for self-care rather as something less thrilling.
In over 90% of cases when Bruce picked up a pebble, he utilised it to preen; in 95% of cases where Bruce dropped a pebble, he retrieved or replaced it in order to resume preening, the researchers wrote.
Bruce chose specific-sized stones for preening rather than randomly picking available pebbles in his habitat; no other kea in his environment preened with pebbles.
Humans are becoming more conscious of the usage of tools in the animal world. Crows excel at it, cockatoos can create their own tools or simply plunder our belongings, and even octopuses utilise tools to avoid unwanted attention.
A wild kea can live for up to 20 years, but parrots in captivity can live for up to 50, so we hope Bruce can continue his self-care routine for many more years.
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