New study: parrots capable of using and sharing tools

Greater vasa parrot using a tool to extract calcium
Greater vasa parrot using a tool

All right, well, awareness of my tremendous affection for all things bird-related has spread to all my friends, and now whenever there is an interesting bird study, (or funny video of owls blinking), I can expect to be informed about it.

My friend Melissa, who is doing a degree in STEM, and just got all As, sent me this new study from Science Daily.

It says:

Psychologists at the University of York and University of St Andrews have uncovered the first evidence of tool use by greater vasa parrots (Coracopsis vasa).

Studying ten captive parrots, researchers in the Department of Psychology at York observed the birds adopt a novel tool-using technique to acquire calcium from seashells and also the active sharing of tools among themselves.

The birds used small pebbles or date pits to grind calcium powder from the shells or to break off small pieces of shell to ingest. This behaviour, never before seen in this species, is the first evidence of a nonhuman using tools for grinding, and one of the few reports of nonhuman animals sharing tools directly.

Observing and filming the parrots over an eight month period (March to October), researchers documented their interactions with cockle shells on the floor of their aviary. Shells are a known source of calcium for birds.

Five out of ten birds were documented using tools, placing either pebbles or date pits inside shells to grind against the shell, or using them as a we

Yes, this is actually really important if you are a bird owner, as I am. Male parrots tend to have problems that are specific to their breed, but female parrots of any breed seem to run into this egg-laying problem where they law so many eggs, that they run out of calcium to make the eggshells. This is called “egg binding” and it can kill your bird if it’s not caught early.

Now, what do you think that a ambitious and chivalrous male parrot would do about egg binding when courting a delightful female parrot?


Interest in the shells was greatest from March to mid-April, just before the breeding season — this may be due to calcium supplementation being critical for egg-laying. Researchers were therefore initially surprised to find that it was the males, not the females who showed the greatest interest in shells.

However, observation of the parrots’ breeding behaviour showed that males often engaged in regurgitative feeding of females before copulating with them, thus potentially passing on the calcium benefits.

Megan Lambert, PhD student in York’s Department of Psychology and lead author on the study, said: “The use of tools by nonhuman animals remains an exceedingly rare phenomenon. These observations provide new insights into the tool-using capabilities of parrots and give rise to further questions as to why this species uses tools.

“Tool use could reflect an innate predisposition in the parrots, or it could be the result of individual trial and error learning or some form of social learning. Whether these birds also use tools in the wild remains to be explored, but ultimately these observations highlight the greater vasa parrot as a species of interest for further studies of physical cognition.”

That’s right!

Here is a video linked in the article:

Now, do you know what this reminds me of? It reminds me of that post on love that I wrote a while back. When a man loves a woman, he tries to take away her trouble, or to take trouble for her, so that she is protected and her life is easier. He does things that will help her because he cares about her. It would be nice if more men acted like these birds, and tried to show that they cared by protecting and providing. And it would be nice if more women looked for protecting and providing, and were attracted by them.

One thought on “New study: parrots capable of using and sharing tools”

  1. “And it would be nice if more women looked for protecting and providing, and were attracted by them.”

    We do, and we are.

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