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Science

Cockatoo Manufactures, Uses Tools 75

Posted by Soulskill
from the already-smarter-than-my-neighbor dept.
grrlscientist writes with news of a cockatoo named Figaro, who was observed to construct and use his own tools to retrieve objects that were outside of his cage. Quoting: "One day, a student caregiver noticed Figaro pushing a stone pebble through the aviary wire mesh, where it fell on a wood structural beam. Unable to retrieve the stone with his foot, Figaro then fetched a piece of bamboo and again attempted to retrieve the stone using the bamboo stick. ... During the next three days, the researchers ran trials of the original scenario, which was repeated ten times but substituting a cashew nut for the pebble. All trials were captured on video and the process of tool manufacture and use was documented photographically. ... 'Figaro made a new tool for every nut we placed there and each time the bird was successful in obtaining it,' reports cognitive biologist Alice Auersperg of the University of Vienna, who led the study (PDF). During these trials, Figaro used 10 tools, nine of which he manufactured and one of which was ready-made."
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Cockatoo Manufactures, Uses Tools

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  • by Mogusha (1091607) on Saturday November 10, 2012 @05:20PM (#41945665)
    I remember reading an article about how dragonflies were using stones to tap down their nests making it harder for predators to find. The result was a reclassification on what constituted a tool removing the dragonflies from being classified as tool users.
    Many animals use tools. So, I don't really see how this is news worthy other than that the bird learned to build them on its own without help from other birds.
    • by slashmydots (2189826) on Saturday November 10, 2012 @05:24PM (#41945683)
      Uh oh, the cockatoo just used bamboo to log into slashdot and read that comment and it appears he's devising a spear-like weapon and a lock pick for the cage door. Watch your ass! You pissed him off, lol.
      • Shivs are among the first tools produced in prison environments, so I'd watch my back...

      • by dbIII (701233)
        They don't need weapons. Take a look at that beak.
    • by dotHectate (975458) on Saturday November 10, 2012 @05:37PM (#41945763) Journal
      There's been a lot of back and forth revision of the definition over the years. I remember it was originally something like "Any object used outside of its natural scope to achieve a goal." Then people realized this meant otters used stones as tools to open clams so it became "Any object that has been modified to increase efficiency for a purpose outside of its natural scope." Then we had video of apes stripping leaves from branches to stick them in anthills... and the revision continues on ad infinitum because heaven forbid that humans have to share the title of "Tool-maker/user" with lesser beings.
      • Re: (Score:2, Interesting)

        by wwalker (159341)

        Not sure if you realize it, but you just described how science works in general. Especially physics, and to some degree, math. We observe the world around us and come up with a theory that describes it. Then someone makes a discovery that invalidates that theory. Then someone else comes up with a new theory (or expands/modifies the previous one) to make it work with the new discovery. Then someone else makes a new discovery. And so on and so forth, ad infinitum. Sometimes it happens a bit backwards -- someo

        • by green1 (322787) on Saturday November 10, 2012 @06:57PM (#41946317)

          Science works by re-evaluating our world view based on the results of the experiment. Only bad science re-evaluates the definitions of the words in the original hypothesis to cause the desired result instead.
          Proper science would have the hypothesis that humans are the only ones who make and use tools, upon seeing another animal make and use tools, we would adjust the hypothesis to say "only humans and _____ make and use tools" or some such. Instead we find people re-defining "tools" so that their original hypothesis remains correct despite evidence to the contrary. This isn't science.

        • Man is the only creature who uses tools to make things he does not need, and then needs to use other tools to make something large in which to store them all.
        • Not really. What he described is called "goal post moving".

        • by Genda (560240)

          Not sure if you realize this but you have it Bass Ackwards. An incorrect definition of tool was originally defined on the presumption that only human beings had the mental chops to reorganize their environment using rational capability and tools. With growing research we find that a number of species demonstrate a native and shocking intelligence comparable if not equal to human beings. The late great African Grey Parrot, Alex had the intellectual development of a 5 year child, and could perform simple math

          • if there are wiser beings watching us, waiting for us to demonstrate some semblance of social maturity, wouldn't such an act demonstrate our good intentions? Our growing maturity and responsibility? All interesting ideas.

            Wot, noticing dolphins and birds are kind of smart and so genetically modifying them to make them people? Any wiser beings would think we're functionally retarded as a species.

        • by fatphil (181876)
          Changing definitions so that you can throw away data that contradicts the conclusions you wish to draw? Exemplary *bad science*.
        • by doti (966971)

          Leave Math out of this.

          Math has nothing to do with reality.

      • by Empiric (675968) on Saturday November 10, 2012 @06:29PM (#41946153)

        For a substantial subset of the population of a certain worldview, the main dilemma is that they can propose no conceptual differentiator of themselves from animals at all.

        This has... implications.

        • by Genda (560240) <(mariet) (at) (got.net)> on Sunday November 11, 2012 @01:52AM (#41947955) Journal

          Indeed... we are animals like all the rest no different than the others save we live in a sea of language and all that entails. Once we expand the ability of these other beings to communicate in a rich language space the differences get shockingly small. Koko loves kitty, want good banana. Koko is beautiful gorilla. Not human, but so close its scary, particularly when uneducated poachers are slaughtering gorillas for trinkets, their hands and feet and sometimes bush meat. In this sitatoin, who is the wild beast and who is the intelligent species indeed?

          • by Empiric (675968)
            Indeed... we are animals like all the rest no different than the others save we live in a sea of language and all that entails.

            Speak for yourself.
          • by Optic7 (688717)

            Not human, but so close its scary, particularly when uneducated poachers are slaughtering gorillas for trinkets, their hands and feet and sometimes bush meat. In this sitatoin, who is the wild beast and who is the intelligent species indeed?

            Don't forget that humans used to do these same things to other humans, not just other animals, until very recently. Perhaps they even still do, in some places.

      • There's been a lot of back and forth revision of the definition over the years. I remember it was originally something like "Any object used outside of its natural scope to achieve a goal." Then people realized this meant otters used stones as tools to open clams so it became "Any object that has been modified to increase efficiency for a purpose outside of its natural scope." Then we had video of apes stripping leaves from branches to stick them in anthills... and the revision continues on ad infinitum because heaven forbid that humans have to share the title of "Tool-maker/user" with lesser beings.

        FYI, it's well-accepted that apes make tools. And not just the well known anthill thingy; 7 or a dozen different things, IIRC.

        • by theshowmecanuck (703852) on Saturday November 10, 2012 @09:13PM (#41946997) Journal
          So do elephants. There is a well documented incident where a female elephant was observed using an epileptic Maasai midget as a vibrator. This is the real reason for their animosity towards elephants. Not competition for land which is the common excuse cited in animal documentary films. This is usually because of a puritan streak in America that causes Americans to shy away from elephant sexuality. I saw this on animal planet. Honest.
    • by fuzzyfuzzyfungus (1223518) on Saturday November 10, 2012 @05:43PM (#41945811) Journal

      I remember reading an article about how dragonflies were using stones to tap down their nests making it harder for predators to find. The result was a reclassification on what constituted a tool removing the dragonflies from being classified as tool users.

      Many animals use tools. So, I don't really see how this is news worthy other than that the bird learned to build them on its own without help from other birds.

      I think that that is the noteworthy bit:

      In a sufficiently broad sense, every lifeform on earth has been a 'tool user' since the first proto-membrane structure in some billion-year-old primordial ooze first managed to modify the concentration gradients of some useful molecule(tools don't have to be big, do they?) across its membrane. What we are looking for, when classifying 'tool use' is cognitive development of novel uses for environmental objects, because that demonstrates something about mental capacity, rather than execution of uses for environmental objects(however sophisticated and interesting as a different object of study).

      Something like a leafcutter ant, say, has an evolved relationship with fungi rather more sophisticated than most human brewers; but we don't see experimentation, learning, cultural transmission, novel improvisation, etc. This bird, on the other hand, apparently came up with some(crude) tools that birds of its kind don't normally use, purely on its own, to deal with local problems.

      The extended relationship between organisms and their environment(extending, in many cases, far enough that you really have to consider the organism as being an element of a larger structure) is indeed fascinating; but it doesn't really do conceptual clarity much good to combine complex environmental manipulations that don't show evidence of being cognitively acquired from those that do...

      • by twdorris (29395)

        it doesn't really do conceptual clarity much good to combine complex environmental manipulations that don't show evidence of being cognitively acquired from those that do...

        It took some cognitively acquired, complex environmental manipulations to parse that sentence. But in fact, it's actually a well-worded statement and a generally good point. Which leads me to believe that you accidentally posted your response on the wrong site. You do realize this is Slashdot, right?

      • by Genda (560240) <(mariet) (at) (got.net)> on Sunday November 11, 2012 @02:13AM (#41948007) Journal

        Alex the famous African Grey Parrot would help tutor other Grey Parrots. A chimp can be shown a model of an adjoining room, with a locker containing a nice piece of fruit. When the door opens, it goes straight to the fruit, it groks symbolic reference. Koko the signing gorilla was capable of artwork, word play, and conversations with remarkable sensitivity and insight, all of these traits we take for granted as strictly human, and they are not. These are not anecdotal musings. These are cold hard facts gleaned from test animals in research facilities. The harder we look, the more we see, the more we see how close they are to us and that they deserve to be treated with the respect that sentience or the spark of sentience deserves. Human beings haven't even stopped dehumanizing one another, it is perhaps time that as we protect the human dignity of our own species, that we include all highly intelligent species as well as an expression of that dignity.

    • by Sigg3.net (886486)

      Don't listen to Mogusha! He's a cuckatoo, just trying to avoid suspicion!

  • grrlscientist writes with news of a cockatoo named Figaro, who was observed to construct and use his own tools

    That's just epic. When the economy doesn't support the First World manufacturing industry, you can rely on parrots take over. I think I'll sleep much better now. :-)

    • by fuzzyfuzzyfungus (1223518) on Saturday November 10, 2012 @06:00PM (#41945959) Journal

      grrlscientist writes with news of a cockatoo named Figaro, who was observed to construct and use his own tools

      That's just epic. When the economy doesn't support the First World manufacturing industry, you can rely on parrots take over. I think I'll sleep much better now. :-)

      Just you wait: Next week, I hear that a team will be publishing their work on a vulture who established a shell company, oversaw a hostile buyout of Figaro's Tools, and then outsourced production to China while exploiting the artisinal brand appeal of Figaro's lovingly handcrafted tradition... That's the bird you want to watch out for...

    • grrlscientist writes with news of a cockatoo named Figaro, who was observed to construct and use his own tools

      That's just epic. When the economy doesn't support the First World manufacturing industry, you can rely on parrots take over. I think I'll sleep much better now. :-)

      I've seen a video of a manufacturer using birds trained to identify defective plastic screws as they passed by a little window on a conveyer.

      People replaced with machines, machines replaced with birds... what's the world coming to?

  • by Anonymous Coward

    With the names of some recent start-ups, I at first thought there was a new company named Cockatoo that was getting into the manufacturing biz and they use the open-source app called "tools".

    Hey, there are lots of weird names out there.

  • The New Caledonian raven has already been documented as creating and using tools [youtube.com].

    Of course, this is how science is done - repetition!
  • A smart bird would have made a tool that could do the job ten times, and not a new tool each time. I have seen docos showing mainly birds using tools to get grubs out of holes or use stones to crack nuts, I think that we under- estimate how smart animals can be.

    • Well, he's probably a bit bored in there. And the yard is a bit grubby. Might have been hard to find the sticks again.
      But if you watch the video, it shows him picking up a stick again that he dropped when the cashew wasn't close enough.
      It also shows him picking up a random stick in the yard, and resizing a stick that was too large to manipulate the cashew.

    • Re: (Score:3, Funny)

      A smart bird would have made a tool that could do the job ten times, and not a new tool each time.

      A smart bird would have picked the lock on the cage and shived the person with the can of cashews when their back was turned.

      • My wife's parents used to have two Cockatoos. (Only one now - the other passed away.) Both birds figured out how to pick a Master key lock to get out of their cages. And forget the shiv. Their beaks are strong enough to crack right through the bone in your finger if they want to. (Luckily, I don't know this from personal experience.) Do NOT attempt to pet them if they're in a bad mood!

        • by robbiedo (553308)
          Cockatoos are some of the most adorable, sweet, cuddly...flip the switch...mean, aggressive, dangerous animals I have ever worked with.
          • by Carewolf (581105)

            Cockatoos are some of the most adorable, sweet, cuddly...flip the switch...mean, aggressive, dangerous animals I have ever worked with.

            You never worked with cats?

            • I'd pit my in-laws' cockatoo against a cat any day.... except it wouldn't be fair to the cat. Cats can be aggressive, but cockatoos are mini-raptors. Their claws and beaks can be deadly if they decide they don't like you.

  • Ok, so Cockatoo's, Apes, Elephants and Dragonflies all use tools too. We're still the only species that hangs them on shadowboards.
  • A good TED talk in itself, but around 2:55 the speaker shows a video of a crow creating a tool: Joshua Klein: The intelligence of crows [ted.com]. I like his conclusion: instead of killing crows (and other non-human species which have adapted to live in cities), we should think how we can use their adaptive skills to train them to do some work for us, i.e. to try to cooperate with them.
  • ...we'll have a problem on our hands. Imagine a new breed of intelligent flying creatures. They'd swoop down, grab our food and just fly away. They'd fly to some remote mountain top to breed, then create their own civilization and eventually.. they'll come for us :)

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