Homepage > Bruce is a parrot with a broken beak. So he invented a tool.

Bruce is a parrot with a broken beak. So he invented a tool.

Many animals are known to use tools, but a bird named Bruce is perhaps one of the most ingenious non-human tool inventors of all: he is a disabled parrot who designed and uses his own prosthetic beak. .

Bruce is a kea, a species of parrot found only in New Zealand. He’s about 9 years old, and when wildlife researchers found him as a baby, he was missing his upper beak, likely because he had been caught in a trap designed for rats and other invasive mammals that the country was trying to capture. ‘eliminate. This is a serious handicap, as the kea uses its extremely long, curved upper bill to smooth its feathers, get rid of pests, and remove dirt and grime.

But Bruce found a solution: he learned on his own to pick up the right-sized pebbles, hold them between his tongue and lower beak, and comb his plumage with the point of the stone. Other animals use tools, but Bruce’s invention of his own prosthesis is unique.

The researchers published their results in the journal Scientific reports. Animal behavior studies are tricky – researchers must make precise and objective observations and always beware of biases caused by anthropomorphization or the mistaken attribution of human characteristics to animals.

“The main criticism we received prior to publication was, ‘Well this activity with the pebbles was maybe accidental – you saw it when, by coincidence, he had a pebble in his mouth.’ said Amalia PM Bastos, an animal cognition researcher at the University of Auckland and lead author of the study. “But no. This has been repeated several times. He drops the pebble, he’s going to pick it up. He wants that pebble. If he doesn’t lick himself, he doesn’t pick up a pebble for nothing else.

Dorothy M. Fragaszy, professor emeritus of psychology at the University of Georgia who has published extensively on animal behavior but was unfamiliar with Bruce’s exploits, hailed the study as a role model on how to study the use of tools in animals. “The careful analyzes of behavior in this report provide a strong conclusion that the behavior is flexible, deliberate and independent discovery by this individual,” she said.

Bruce kea A photo provided by the University of Auckland shows Bruce, a disabled parrot who has designed and uses his own prosthetic beak to preen himself. (Patrick Wood / University of Auckland via The New York Times)

Researchers have set careful rules for themselves.

First, they established that Bruce did not play randomly with pebbles: when he picked up a pebble, he used it to smooth himself 9 out of 10 times. When he dropped a pebble, 95% of the time he picked it up. or picked up another. one, then continued to smooth out. He systematically picked up pebbles of the same size, rather than sampling pebbles at random.

None of the other kea in their environment used pebbles to preen themselves, and when other birds handled pebbles, they picked up pebbles of random sizes. Bruce’s intentions were clear.

“Bruce didn’t see anyone do that,” Bastos said. “He just made it up on his own, which is pretty cool. We have been fortunate enough to observe this. We can learn a lot if we pay a little more attention to what animals are doing, both in the wild and in captivity.

Kea in general is quite intelligent, but Bastos said that Bruce was clearly brighter than the other birds, very easily trained in fairly complex tasks as well as developing his own ideas. Bastos said she is sometimes asked why she didn’t provide Bruce with a prosthetic beak.

“He doesn’t need it,” she always replies. “He’s fine with hers. “

This article originally appeared in The New York Times.

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