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Smart Animals: Critically Endangered Hawaiian Crow Capable of Proficiently Using Tools

Sep 15, 2016 05:28 AM EDT
Researchers have discovered that the critically-endangered Hawaiian Crow, or locally known as Alalā, is a highly proficient tool user.
(Photo : David McNew/Getty Images)

An international team lead by scientists from the University of St. Andrews in United Kingdom have discovered that the critically-endangered Hawaiian Crow, or locally known as Alalā, is a highly proficient tool user.

Their discovery, described in a paper published in the journal Nature, could play a significant role in the conservation of the Hawaiian Crow, which is now extinct in the wild.

"These birds had no specific training prior to our study, yet most of them were incredibly skilled at handling stick tools, and even swiftly extracted bait from demanding tasks. In many regards, the 'Alalā is very similar to the New Caledonian crow, which my team has been studying for over 10 years," said lead author Dr Christian Rutz, from the University of St Andrews, in a press release.

For the study, the researchers tested 104 of the 109 Hawaiian crows that are alive during their research. The researchers observed that majority of the Alalā spontaneously used tools, specifically sticks, to extract food from wooden logs or hard to reach places. This suggests that tool use is part of the bird's natural behavioral repertoire.

The researchers believe that the straight beaks and extremely forward facing eyes of the Hawaiian crow played a crucial role in their ability to use tools. The straight beaks of the crows make it easier for them to maneuver stick, compared to the curved beaks.

The Hawaiian crow is now the second crow species that have been discovered to be a proficient tool user. The first to be discovered is the New Caledonian crows, which is endemic in the island of New Caledonian in the Pacific.

The New Caledonian crow, which is characterized by their straight beaks and large eyes, became the basis of the researcher's hunt for other tool-using crows.

There are more than 40 species of crows and ravens out there, with so many of them still understudied. Their findings emphasize the need to protect other species in order to learn more about their behavior.

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