For the first time ever, scientists have captured video footage of the wild New Caledonian crows making hooked stick tools in their natural setting. Researchers have previously seen these South Pacific birds build tools out of leaves and twigs only in artificial situations where they baited feeding sites and provided the necessary raw tools. Findings of the study were described Wednesday in the journal Biology Letters.
New Caledonian is well-known for its tool tricks
To conduct the study, ecologists attached tiny cameras to the tail feathers of 10 wild crows. Only four of them used tools on the “crow cam.” However, they did so extensively for foraging. New Caledonian is well-known for its tool tricks. Unfortunately, until now, little was known about how they build and use their foraging tools in the wild because of their shyness and sensitivity towards the disturbance.
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Lead author Jolyon Troscianko of the University of Exeter in the UK said in a statement that these videos will offer valuable insights into the importance of tools in their daily search for food. The nearly 12 hours of footage also captured two instances of crows creating the hooked stick tools, one of their most complex tools. Scientists were also able to track their activity over time.
Crows value their tools
Researchers are yet to find out precisely what drives these wild crows to use complex tools. The birds spent very little time building and using tools. Instead, they mostly used their sturdy beaks foraging. “But every now and then, they suddenly switch into tool use” in the same trees in similar foraging context. That’s what baffled scientists. The crow cam systems used for the study stored the footage on a microSD card.
The cameras fell off in about a week. A tiny radio beacon helped scientists track the gadgets down. In one instance, a bird dropped its tool, and recovered it from the ground soon afterward. It indicates that these birds value their tools, instead of discarding them after single use. Crows use all sorts of tricks to keep their tools safe.