Saturday, May 15, 2010

The New Caledonian Crow

As a bird owner, the more I read about this the more fascinating it becomes.

New Caledonian Crow

The New Caledonian Crow also spontaneously makes tools from materials it does not encounter in the wild, the only non-human species known to do so. In 2002, researcher Kacelnik and colleagues at the University of Oxford observed of a couple of New Caledonian Crows called Betty and Abel:

Betty's toolmaking abilities came to light by accident during an experiment in which she and Abel had to choose between a hooked and a straight wire for retrieving small pieces of pig heart, their favorite food. When Abel made off with the hooked wire, Betty bent the straight wire into a hook and used the tool to lift a small bucket of food from a vertical pipe. This experiment was the first time the crows had been presented with wire.

Subsequently, this ability was tested through a series of systematic experiments. Out of ten successful retrievals, Betty bent the wire into a hook nine times. Abel retrieved the food once, without bending the wire. The process would usually start with Betty trying to get the food bucket with the straight wire, but then she would make a hook from it bending it in different ways, usually by snagging one end of the wire under something, and then using the bent hook to pick up the tray.

Clearly, Betty's creation of hooks cannot be attributed to the shaping or reinforcement of randomly generated behavior. In 2004, Gavin Hunt observed the crows in the wild also making hooks, but the adaptation to the new material of the wire was clearly novel, and also purposeful. This type of intentional tool-making, even if it is generalizing a prior experience to a completely new context, is almost unknown in the animal world. Chimpanzees have great difficulty in similar innovative tasks.

See Also:
Poll: Who Is Smarter?
Bird in the Hand Haiku

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