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BIRDS USING TOOLS

by Patricia Barth

Through experience by bird owners and through the experiments of Dr. Irene Pepperberg - (her website), we've come to know hookbills as affectionate and intelligent creatures. They are incredibly empathetic, aware and understanding. Not all of them communicate well enough for us to be cognizant of their emotions and intelligence, though. By the grace of God and His genetic engineering, they do have the ability to communicate by talking.
  • TALKING: Some species are better talkers than others, thus being the ones who give us the insight for what they may be thinking. Yes, some talking is mimicing. However, much of it is used with relative thought. For instance, a Nanday conure I sold to a customer answers her questions intelligibly. My Yellownaped Amazon calls birds by their correct names. Others make verbal demands as to what they want.
  • TOOLS: The only examples I've seen on TV of a parrot coming close to using tools are the experiments of Dr. Pepperberg. Alex, the Grey, would relate colors to items, etc. Corvids (crows, etc.) have also been documented using tools and ingenious means of cracking walnuts (throwing them in front of an oncoming car for instance). My African Grey has shown me that they do have the ability to intelligibly find use for their limited cage items to develop them into tools. After eating out the content of half a walnut shell, he then throws the shell into his water dish, grabs it the right way, and either tilts it into his beak or licks the water out of it. I've seen him do this daily in succession many times, so I know it's not just coincidence. Now if only he'd put out his little toe like a dainty English tea drinker, I'd be thoroughly amused. My video capture is not the best, but he can be seen in action here. Another very common use of a tool is for a parrot to use its own molted feather to scratch itself as exhibited in this video.
  • LINKS: Goffin Using Stick to Retrieve Nut
    Vasa Parrots Use Pebbles to Grind Minerals

If you have ever witnessed parrots devising their own tools, please let me know. I'll add it to this page. I will also add it to the parrot video page. Send an e-mail to with BIRDS USING TOOLS in the subject line.
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