Kea are known for their cleverness and curiosity, but a new study has shown that exploring new objects helps the alpine parrots figure out which to use as tools when faced with a problem.
Published in the Royal Society Open Science, the study tested kea and New Caledonian crows by presenting them with a number of objects, some of which has the potential to be tools. Then, when faced with a tool-use task, the birds had to choose which object to use.
Both kea and crows did better than could be explained by chance alone, and better when they had a chance to see the objects beforehand compared to going into the test blind.
NZ co-author Dr Alex Taylor from the University of Auckland told RadioLive the impetus for the study was why it was that kea and New Caledonian crows show such curiosity.
“I think this something a lot of Kiwis have experience with, we see the kea on skifields and when you’re out hiking and they’ll often come up to us and play with our windscreen wipers, play with our rucksacks – the question we had was why.
“What it turns out is that when kea are playing at least some of the time they’re not playing for play’s sake, but they’re playing to pick up information about the environment to learn how things work.”
“The idea here is we’re trying to learn more about how kea think so we can help with their conservation, so we can help with how they interact with humans.” He said a reassuring finding was that kea didn’t “explicitly play to see new information”, which meant new measures like rubbish bins to keep kea out wouldn’t drive the birds to seek out tools to figure out how to get into the bins.
The study was covered by local media, including:
RadioLive: Kea – playful or clever?
Stuff.co.nz: Study: clever kea ‘much like human infants’ in exploring the world around them
NZ Herald: Study tests quirky theory for kea curiosity
One News: ‘They are very similar to people’ – study finds curious kea learn and solves problems