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Study finds that cockatoos are birdies that can play GOLF


A cockatoo attempts the golf-inspired game. (Thomas Suchanek via SWNS)

By Dean Murray via SWNS

Cockatoos can play GOLF, a new study released January 27 claimed.

Austrian researchers have shown how the birds use primate-level tool-using abilities in a test inspired by the game.

The study compares the problem-solving cockatoos to our ancestors, who invented their first compound tools by joining two objects firmly together to give rise to a new object, such as pointed spears or axes.

In this case, the birds used a beak-held stick to guide a ball to a collapsible platform to release a treat.

A cockatoo attempts the golf-inspired game.(Thomas Suchanek via SWNS)
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Dr. Antonio Osuna-Mascaró, from the Messerli Research Institute at the University of Veterinary Medicine in Vienna, investigated the innovative problem-solving abilities of a particularly tool adept bird: the Goffin's cockatoo.

He came up with the idea of a golf-influenced task after passing a course on the way to his laboratory.

The task consisted of a platform with a green carpet encased inside a box with a frontal grid. On each side of this green was a rectangular hole with a collapsible platform underneath. During testing one of these two collapsible platforms was visibly baited with a cashew nut.

The frontal grid of the box had a central hole that allowed for the insertion of a heavy white marble onto the centre of the green. The marble would however not fit through the rest of the grid.

Nevertheless, a stick could be inserted and directed in a way that it would push the marble into one of the holes on top of the collapsible platforms, releasing the food reward provided the correct hole was hit.

Dr. Antonio Osuna-Mascaró. (Thomas Suchanek via SWNS).

Dr. Antonio Osuna-Mascaró explains: “I wanted to design an experiment to test to what extent these amazing creatures pay attention to simultaneous actions during their tool use.

"I couldn't just mimic the techniques employed by other tool users such as chimpanzees when cracking nuts with stones because cockatoos do not have hands; I thus had to rely on tasks that allows for movements that are more natural to these animals.

“I found that the answer had always been on my way to the lab, a golf course! A golf-like challenge might allow me to test the animal’s ability to conduct composite tool actions."

Several cockatoos completed the task, but an adult male called Figaro outperformed most of the competitors, and was able to solve the test from his first attempt.

In fact, Figaro only failed on one occasion: he cheated the box by finding an error in the mechanism that allowed him to solve it without the use of tools.

Dr. Osuna Mascaro said: "Three of our cockatoos figured out how to use the stick to shinny the ball into the correct hole and secure a reward, a real demonstration of tool innovation at a very high level.

"One of the most amazing aspects of the process was to observe how these animals each invented their own individual technique in how to grip the stick and hit the ball, sometimes with astonishing dexterity.

Dr. Antonio Osuna-Mascaró. (Thomas Suchanek via SWNS).

“One of the birds operated the stick while holding it between the mandibles, one between the beak tip and tongue and one with his claw, similar to a primate.”

“There were eleven cockatoos involved in this study: seven males and four females; all adults.

“Three of them found the solution by themselves, one - Figaro - found it on his first chance and never failed; he has a failed session, but by a cheating solving event.

"Two more cockatoos were able to solve it, but they did not reach the established criterion to be considered solvers: that is three sessions of three trials each one, so nine consecutive trials. Six cockatoos were unable to find the solution.

“To solve the experiment, the cockatoos must first introduce the marble in the box, so that it falls in the center of the green, and then push it with the stick towards one of the collapsible platforms on the sides, where the prize - a piece of cashew nut - awaits.

“The important part regarding innovation is that cockatoos have never used tools in combination, and had no knowledge of how to solve the test. The only knowledge they had was that the side platforms are collapsible.

“Another important fact is that this experiment requires a series of abilities very similar to the nut cracking of chimpanzees, but chimpanzees require years of practice to master it. These cockatoos were able to master it in a handful of opportunities.

“The time needed was close to the ten minutes limit at the beginning, and after few trials - single opportunities of ten mins max - they mastered it completely.

"Figaro, as an example, dropped drastically his time in the fourth trial, and his record is around six seconds only.”

Prof. Alice Auersperg, another author and head of the Goffin Lab at the Messerli Research Institute, commented: "I believe that studying which spatial relationships animals are attending to and how they are using them for enabling tool innovations will be key to getting us better insight into the evolution of technology.

“Enhancing our understanding of the onset of complex tool use in particular is thus currently a focus of our research team.”

Dr. Antonio Osuna-Mascaró. (Thomas Suchanek via SWNS)

A report statement added: "Associative tool use has been greatly important in human technological evolution. It means that more than one object are used in order to achieve a common purpose. Expectantly, it is extremely rare in animals especially in two of its most advanced forms, composite and compound tool use.

"Our ancestors invented their first compound tools by joining two objects firmly joined together to give rise to a new object, two early examples of this might be axes, or pointed spears.

"Cognates or even possibly predecessors of such compound tools are composite tools. These tools are not assembled in a fixed manner, but instead their functions are combined. In their most efficient forms, composite tools require some form of stability between the two tools, this has given rise to the bow, the sling, or the spear-thrower. In contrast, composite tools that allow both tools to be free-moving (which are arguably more difficult to aim with) have given rise to new kinds of recreational activities. Sports such as field hockey, cricket, or golf are perfect examples of this.

“These small parrots learn to use tools like us, through exploration and play, or perhaps with even more merit, because they can invent them but don’t need them in the wild. Despite this, they have proven to be at primate level at using tools, solving all kinds of tests with them."

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