Kea prove they are smarter than most

High-country parrots show tool skills

KIRAN CHUG
Last updated 13:52 01/06/2011

Two kea - Frowin and then Luke - are shown using a tool to gain access to food. Video by Alice Auersperg, University of Vienna.

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Cheeky antics have earnt them a reputation for mischief, but now a group of clever kea have proved they are unrivalled in the smart stakes too.

Researchers have today published a study showing how a group of the South Island high country parrots surprised them with their ability to quickly master new skills.

The kea named Kermit, Luke, Bruce, Frowin, Pick and Tammy by Austrian researchers, were tested for their abilities to use tools in experimental settings.

The birds were faced with a box containing food, but had to work out how to get to it via various openings.

Kea do not build nests or use twigs in the wild, so the researchers were surprised to find that they quickly mastered the art of manipulating sticks to get what they wanted.

Kermit the kea proved the smartest of the group, and once he had found some innovative ways to use twigs to knock the food off the platform, he set about demonstrating his know-how to the other birds.

With crooked beaks, and no background of using twigs or tools to create nests, the scientists had assumed the kea would lack the "ecological disposition" to direct objects such as twigs or sticks.

Their research was published in the Journal of the Royal Society Biology Letters today.

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- The Dominion Post

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