Crow tools

Those corvids! They not only use tools in controlled observation situations, but they also make and take tools when they’re in the wild, too. By attaching tiny cameras to crows’ tails, Christian Rutz and colleagues at Oxford University were able to observe crows as they foraged in the wild, flew around carrying tools, and lots more.

Rutz and his colleagues have published the video, if one’s interested. I just spent a lot of time watching snails, lizards, and fruit being eaten from the vantage point of the camera, which views the underside of birds’ beeks looking forward through the birds’ legs.

Very cool.

Video Cameras on Wild Birds
Christian Rutz, Lucas A. Bluff, Alex A. S. Weir, Alex Kacelnik
Department of Zoology, University of Oxford, South Parks Road, Oxford OX1 3PS, UK.

New Caledonian crows (Corvus moneduloides) are renowned for using tools for extractive foraging, but the ecological context of this unusual behavior is largely unknown. We have developed miniaturized, animal-borne video-cameras to record the undisturbed behavior of wild crows and produce a first detailed account of the species’ natural foraging ecology. Our video-cameras revealed that prey items collected during long bouts of ground-foraging are considerably smaller than the woodboring beetle larvae that crows often hunt with stick tools. This finding highlights the potential economic and evolutionary relevance of tool use for New Caledonian crows. We also discovered a novel mode of tool use, and a hitherto unknown tool material, illustrating that tool-assisted foraging by crows is more plastic than previously thought. “Video-tracking” may have considerable potential for studying the behavior and ecology of many other bird species that are shy, or live in inaccessible habitats.

Published Online October 4, 2007; Science DOI: 10.1126/science.1146788

I’m not sure whether I’ve got it right here, but it appears to me that Science has made the complete report (including video clips) open to the public. (I subscribe, so when I hit the page, the browser had my stored credential and it opened for me; I tested by using a different browser and hitting it without having been logged in, and I was able to get the docs.)

Of course, part of the appeal of this story is its connection to my earlier post about cameras on animals.

Other coverage from BBC News, New Scientist, Scientific American, US National Public Radio, and PhysOrg.

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Filed under Amusements, Birds, News, Science, Technology

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