Research by a team in Vienna indicates that the Goffin's cockatoo is smarter than crows by demonstrating genuine creative thinking. Matthew Stock reports.
Crows have long been considered one of the bird world's top brains, demonstrating proficient tool use. But the Goffin's cockatoo could be about to knock the corvid off its perch. Vienna-based scientists tested a number of hand-raised Goffin's. Just like crows, they could fashion tools to retrieve a food reward. But unlike with crows, such behaviour hasn't been documented in their natural habitat. SOUNDBITE (English) DR. ALICE AUERSPERG, HEAD OF GOFFIN LAB, UNIVERSITY OF VETERINARY MEDICINE VIENNA, SAYING: "Finding tool-making in the Goffin's cockatoo is particularly surprising because they're not even recorded to be habitual tool users in the wild. And innovative tool manufacture is extremely rare." Crows use tools to build nests and probe for food. In effect, they may be genetically hardwired to use certain tools, whereas Goffin's cockatoos aren't. They must individually innovate and think up a solution when presented with a problem... such as carving a strip of cardboard to just the right length and width. SOUNDBITE (English) DR. ALICE AUERSPERG, HEAD OF GOFFIN LAB, UNIVERSITY OF VETERINARY MEDICINE VIENNA, SAYING: "They would run along the material, and when they reached the right length they would carve it out and have a tool that was just the appropriate size to knock off the reward from its feeding platform." The study could help better understand cognitive evolution. SOUNDBITE (English) DR. ALICE AUERSPERG, HEAD OF GOFFIN LAB, UNIVERSITY OF VETERINARY MEDICINE VIENNA, SAYING: "it's revealing a lot of capacities that are similar to cognitive capacity that you find in higher primates but that have evolved convergently to them. Which makes this a very interesting field for understanding the evolution of intelligence." While debate over the brainiest bird is likely to continue, there's one species they've both outwitted. Human children, previous studies say, couldn't reliably solve similar problems until they were at least 8 years old.