Animals sometimes succeed quickly in solving a mechanical problem that is a modification of one they have previously learnt to solve. However, they may do so by attending to the visible features of the relevant physical dimension without knowing its causal functionality, if that is not directly perceivable. This kind of problem solving can be tested by simultaneously offering two mechanical devices with the same visual features but different inherent appropriateness for problem solving. Here, we provide data collected by following this procedure for the first time in a bird species. Captive kea, Nestor notabilis, a parrot species highly interested in the affordances of objects, were offered a mechanical problem in which they had to remove a baited tube from one of two upright poles where removal was blocked at the end of one pole but not the other. With extended but not with restricted exploration of a baseline apparatus, the kea immediately succeeded in removing the tube from an apparatus that had modified pole ends when they were able to visually observe (without touching) that one of these ends would block tube removal but the other would not. However, when the kea were allowed to explore two poles that had a removable and a fixed obstruction where the difference in function was not visible, they preferred the removable one during unbaited exploration but failed afterwards to push a tube to the end of the pole with the loose structure during subsequent baited test trials. Thus, in spite of the speed with which the kea learnt the tasks, there was no indication that they understood the underlying unobservable causal structure of the problem.
Animals Cognition Female Male Parrots* Problem Solving Visual Perception