“The use of tools by nonhuman animals remains an exceedingly rare phenomenon,” lead author Megan Lambert, a psychologist at York, said in a press release. “These observations provide new insights into the tool-using capabilities of parrots and give rise to further questions as to why this species uses tools.”
The birds weren’t equally resourceful. Over a period of several months, five of the ten parrots used tools to either grind or break apart the cockle shells.
Birds showed the most interest in the shells in the weeks leading up to mating, suggesting calcium supplementation is beneficial to the reproductive process.
Males appeared most interested in the shells and their calcium, but were frequently seen offering regurgitative feeding to their mates prior to copulation.
“Tool use could reflect an innate predisposition in the parrots, or it could be the result of individual trial and error learning or some form of social learning,” Lambert explained.
“Whether these birds also use tools in the wild remains to be explored, but ultimately these observations highlight the greater vasa parrot as a species of interest for further studies of physical cognition.”