Golfing Goffin’s cockatoos? Study reveals brilliant bird brains

These birds were able to use multiple tools to solve a problem and receive a delicious reward!
Goffin's cockatoos are some of the planet's smartest birds. (ID 128189326 © Sunyawit Deesaen | Dreamstime.com)


There are many things that set humans apart from other animals. One of the biggest? Our ability to use multiple tools.

If you stop to think about it, there is very little that we do without at least one kind of tool. Usually, it is several at once. Pencils and utensils, pots and pans, gears and pulleys, even sticks and stones! Tools allow us to become more than our own abilities, so we can do all sorts of wonderful things.

They make life easier.

This is why researchers are so keen on seeing how other animals use tools. It reveals so much about their intelligence and their potential to evolve in the future. Like how humans evolved.

A new study with cockatoos is causing a real ruckus. With incredible dexterity, these amazing birds are able to 'play golf' for food! Let's hit the green...

Here's the challenge

This diagram shows the puzzle box the cockatoos had to solve. (A.J. Osuna-Mascaro et al., 2022)

Goffin's cockatoos are an especially smart species of parrot. In this study, a group of several birds were challenged with a tricky puzzle box with a cage-like front.

Given only a stick and a ball, the bird needed to first insert the ball into the box. Then, it had to use the stick to putt the ball into a particular spot inside the box. This released a reward for the bird. A tasty cashew!

Successfully doing this required many skills. Being able to grasp and manipulate the ball and stick. Having the patience and ability to learn from mistakes in the process. And above all, being able to understand that doing this thing would lead to a reward. Humans take all of this for granted, but they are really special abilities. Are they abilities the cockatoos share with us?

Problem-solving birds

The answer is yes!

Not every bird was successful. A few even 'threw tantrums' at not being able to get the cashew. But five birds of the eleven succeeded. And three in particular—Figaro, Fini, and Pipin—were very good at the task. Even more interesting, each of these birds invented its own way to solve the puzzle box.

This shows the remarkable ingenuity of the creatures—something that is similar to how humans also often create their own styles of tool use for the same task. Go cockatoos!

Watch them each display their skills in the two Twitter videos below. So cool!


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