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Tool use by birds



Someone a bit back asked to define tool use and give examples of birds
that use them.

Tool use: the manipulation of objects that serve as an extension of the
body of the animal itself.

Reported in nature in the following birds:
black-breasted vulture and Egyptian vulture (to open eggs), 
long-tailed tailorbird (spider silk used as thread), 
satin bowerbird (uses fibrous material held in its beak to apply color to
its bower), Galapagos woodpecker (uses long cactus spines to poke into
crevices for spiders or insects), 
brown-headed nuthatches (use of scale of bark to help pry under pine bark
for food), double-crested cormorant (use of its own feather to apply oil
from preen gland to other feathers), 
green heron (use of piece of bread to bait fish nearer), and 
a captive blue jay (using paper from the bottom of its cage to brush food
on the outside of its cage within reach).

Borderline tool use would be the birds that use hard rocks as anvils to
smash hard-shelled food against in order to open it.  I believe there is
an anvil bird in Europe that does this with snails.  Gulls and crows drop
clams and turtles from heights onto hard surfaces to crack them open.

Since my references at hand are a bit dated, there may be other examples
that have come to light.  All these birds are unrelated to each other, so
the potential for tool use in birds seems widespread.  

Refs:
Thorpe, W. H. 1956. _Learning and Instinct in Animals_, London: Methuen
and CO., Ltd.

Terres, John K. 1980. _The Audubon Society Encyclopedia of North American
Birds_. Alfred A Knopf, NY

Judy Molnar
Education Associate, Virginia Living Museum
vlmed@juno.com
jamolnar@juno.com
All questions are valid; all answers are tentative.