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Goffin’s Cockatoo Invents and Modifies a Tool – a Parrot “First”

Goffin’s CockatooHello, Frank Indiviglio here.  A Goffin’s Cockatoo living at the Vienna University stunned researchers by exhibiting behaviors never before seen in any parrot species.  The bird, known as Figaro, went far beyond “mere” tool use.  When confronted with an out-of-reach treat, he first searched for a stick to use, and then modified the stick so as to better suit it for his purposes.  Figaro’s accomplishments are especially surprising because he had not been trained in any way, nor had he observed other tool-using birds.  He seems to have “envisioned” a concept and acted upon it.  Please post your own “smart parrot” stories below.

Spontaneous and Unexpected Tool Use

Parrots are considered among the most intelligent of birds, but tool use has not been documented in their ranks.  True, the majestic Palm Cockatoo bangs wood against hollow trees in order to communicate (please see this article) and many species wedge nuts into crevices to ease the job of opening them, but advanced tool use seemed beyond their abilities. 

Figaro’s talents came to light purely by chance.  A researcher happened to be nearby when Figaro dropped a stone behind a metal cage divider.  Unable to reach the plaything with his feet, the enterprising cockatoo flew off and returned with a piece of bamboo.  He used the bamboo to push the stone within reach. Read More »

Macaw, Spouting Foul Language, Banned from School

Green Winged MacawEducators at an animal rescue center in the UK got a rude surprise when they recruited “Mr. T” to visit local schools as part of a conservation-themed program.  The 7 year-old Green-Winged Macaw was friendly and eager to show off his speaking abilities, but most of what he said was not fit for classroom use.  Before coming to the rescue center, Mr. T had lived in a private home, and had picked up a huge vocabulary…unfortunately, almost all of it consisted of curses and insults!

Un-learning Bad Habits?

One rescue center employee is working with Mr. T to see if he might be taught to stop cursing.  In my experience, however, teaching a macaw to speak is easier than teaching it to forget what has been learned (much like 3 year-old children who pick up the “wrong” words!).

A related and very interesting phenomenon is unfolding right now in several Australian cities.  Cockatoos that have escaped from captivity are teaching entire flocks of wild individuals to speak!  Please see this article for the very amusing details.

Fortunately, the rescue center where Mr. T resides is home to “well-behaved” wallabies, kangaroos, scorpions and other animals, so his services as an educator are not needed immediately.  It will be interesting to see who prevails, the macaw or his new teacher…I’m betting on Mr. T!

Parrots Behaving Badly

Mr. T is not the only Psittacine to be ejected from various UK forums in recent times.  Awhile back, an Amazon persisted in cursing like a trooper each time he was called upon to perform in a play…despite the fact that he knew his lines perfectly (seems like he planned the “mistakes” very carefully!).   Another was banned from a bar for stealing drinks, heckling pool players and starting fights by whistling at female patrons (this bird now living in more appropriate surroundings).  Please see this article for details.

But one cursing parrot, an African Gray named Mishka, has done quite well for herself – winning an international speaking contest and a movie role.  Please see the video and article below… her repetition of  “I want to go to the Kruger Park with Sterretjie” (Sterretjie is her favorite companion, a Ring-Necked Parakeet) is priceless!

Odd Birds I have Known

Hartlaub’s TuracoMischievous birds of all kinds enlivened my zoo career.  Margie, a Cassowary, liked to sneak up and kick her fence whenever anyone leaned against it.  A fellow zookeeper allowed himself to be ambushed regularly, and the huge bird really seemed to look forward to “surprising” him.  An Indian Hill Myna that called “Help, let me out” in a huge aviary was quite a hit with visitors…but not with the zoo director, when he came to record bird calls for an upcoming presentation!  From overly-amorous Great Horned Owls to overly-aggressive Turacos, there have been many odd characters in my life… please see the articles below for details.

Most bird owners and bird watchers have their share of amusing or embarrassing stories…please write in with yours, so that I can share them with other readers.




Further Reading

African Gray Parrot Wins Talking Contest 

An Unusual Turaco

Is a Macaw the Right Bird for You?

Cockatoos, Koels, Ibis and Honeyeaters Causing Havoc in Australia

Green Winged Macaw by Dcoetzee (Own work) [CC0], via Wikimedia Commons
Hartlaub’s Turaco by derekkeats (Flickr: IMG_2170.resized) [CC-BY-SA-2.0 (www.creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/2.0)], via Wikimedia Commons

Unique Bird Behavior – Ravens Use Beaks to “Show” Objects to Mates

RavenThe act of holding up or pointing to an object, in order to draw another’s attention, has been observed only among ourselves and Great Apes.  Known as deictic gesturing, this behavior is considered critical to the development of language, and a sign of great intelligence (you parents will likely recall the first time your toddler did something similar!).  Along with parrots, crows, and magpies, Common Ravens, Corvus corax, have proven themselves among the brightest of the world’s birds.  Recently, they have been observed to utilize deictic gestures, and are the only birds known to do so.

“Hey…look at this if you care about me”!

Researchers at the Max Planck Institute for Ornithology and the University of Vienna have reported that Ravens pick up objects such as stones, branches and moss and show them to other Ravens.  In most cases, the bird being solicited is the other’s mate.  Once his or her attention is drawn, the pair usually jointly manipulates the object for a time.  Read More »

Mate Aggression in Parrots – Why Parrots Fight with their Partners

Blue-Steaked LoryIn the wild, the pair-bond between mated parrots often lasts a lifetime.  Captive pairs, however, face unique “relationship challenges” that often complicate the mating process.  Owners may find it difficult to find two birds that get along, and even long-established pairs may suddenly begin to fight.

Mate Choice

Parrot breeding is rarely as simple as putting 2 birds of the opposite sex together…both males and females can be quite choosy when it comes to selecting a mate.  Coloration, behavior, vigor and a host of factors that we do not fully understand all come into play, with the ultimate goal being the production healthy offspring.  The process has evolved over millions of years, and works fine in natural situations, where the birds can choose from numerous potential mates.

Captives face an entirely different situation.  Even in large breeding groups, they are limited to a fraction of the potential mates that would be available in the wild.  Being naturally social, many parrots “give in” and accept whatever mate, or same sex friend, presents itself; parrots that live alone often transfer their need for companionship to human owners.  Read More »

Escaped Pets are Teaching Flocks of Wild Cockatoos to Talk!

Sulphur Crested CockatooHello, Frank Indiviglio here.  When the staff at the Australian Museum in Sydney began receiving calls about entire flocks of talking cockatoos, galahs and corellas, they suspected pranksters, or that alcohol was involved.  But, oddly enough, the reports turned out to be genuine. It seems that an odd phenomenon is taking shape in Sydney and other Australian cities…wild parrots are talking to one another – and to people!

Mimics by Design

Cockatoos and other parrots are social birds, and have complicated systems of communication that we are only just beginning to understand. For example, ornithologists recently learned that some species provide their chicks with “names” that are then learned and used by other flock members (please see article below). The ability to learn from one another, and from people, is behind Australia’s latest unique bird story. Read More »

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