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CockaTools:Innovative tool use and problem solving in a parrot

Research ContextWe propose to study tool innovation in an avian model with the capacity to recruit sophisticated forms of tool use through domain-general mechanisms. The Goffin's cockatoo is not a species-wide tool user and lacks traits associated with the onset of tool-use in birds (nest building/food caching). Nevertheless, it shows highly adaptable extractive foraging, a drive to combine objects, the ability to instantly memorize motor sequences and the ability to innovate and emulate tool use and manufacture.Research Questions/ObjectivesTo address ultimate and proximate levels of analysis we will adopt a Tinbergian approach: Work package 1 (WP1) examines to what extend the Goffin’s flexible extractive foraging is driven by opportunism. WP2 investigates its cognitive development in the technical domain. Cognitive research often focuses on explaining uncharted abilities on an animals’ current challenges while ignoring the possible phylogenetic age of the traits. We thus plan to compare flexibility and tool-using skills in closely related species (WP3). WP4 represents the most ambitious part of the project. It addresses the perceptional and cognitive mechanisms of tool use in the Goffin.MethodsWithin WP I we propose to study our model’s feeding ecology and extractive foraging techniques in its natural habitat (Tanimbar) and in an introduced population (Singapore). In WP II we will study sensorimotor development and the development of object permanence in juvenile Goffins. In WP III we compare flexibility within the subgenus Licmetis and between wild and captive born subjects using a Multi Access Box approach. In WP IV we plan to look at perceptual characteristics by measuring their visual field and details of skull/beak morphology to determine how they counteract morphological challenges during tool use. We will also look at their perception of the relationship between a tool’s shape and a corresponding opening using fitting tasks. The Goffin’s capacity for tool manufacture rivals tool specialists. We plan to confront subjects with tool-making tasks that require the crafting of tools for specific functions. Future planning abilities in birds is limited to food-caching species and it is unclear whether inherited caching habits are a prerequisite. We developed a new setup to test future planning of tool use.InnovationThis project represents the first synergistic approach to studying the Goffin’s technical cognition. It introduces several new setups to study innovative tool behavior. Its findings will fuel current debates on the role of extractive foraging in the evolution of intelligent tool use and on the onset of tool use in non-primates.Primary ResearchersThe work involves three PhD students (WP1; WP2, WP3), two post-docs (WP1 and one for WP4) and the PI. ).
Innovative tool use & problem solving in a parrot
Project leader
Auersperg Alice Isabel Marie
FWF START Programm
Type of Research
Basic research
Vetmed Research Units
Messerli Research Institute, Comparative Cognition
Funded by
FWF - Fonds zur Förderung der wissenschaftlichen Forschung, Wien, Austria

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5 Publications

Osuna-Mascaró, AJ; Auersperg, AMI (2021): Current Understanding of the "Insight" Phenomenon Across Disciplines. Front Psychol. 2021; 12:791398
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Lambert, PJ; Stiegler, A; Rössler, T; Lambert, ML; Auersperg, AMI (2021): Goffin's cockatoos discriminate objects based on weight alone. Biol Lett. 2021; 17(9):20210250
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O'Hara, M; Mioduszewska, B; Mundry, R; Yohanna, ; Haryoko, T; Rachmatika, R; Prawiradilaga, DM; Huber, L; Auersperg, AMI (2021): Wild Goffin's cockatoos flexibly manufacture and use tool sets. Curr Biol. 2021; 31(20):4512-4520.e6
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Laumer, IB; Massen, JJM; Boehm, PM; Boehm, A; Geisler, A; Auersperg, AMI (2021): Individual Goffin´s cockatoos (Cacatua goffiniana) show flexible targeted helping in a tool transfer task. PLoS One. 2021; 16(6):e0253416
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Colbourne, JAD; Auersperg, AMI; Lambert, ML; Huber, L; Völter, CJ (2021): Extending the Reach of Tooling Theory: A Neurocognitive and Phylogenetic Perspective. Top Cogn Sci. 2021; 13(4):548-572
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