Saturday, 6 July 2013

Cockatoos smart enough

This is an international effort to study and report on what Australian farmers knew already that the cockatoo is reasonably smart, mischievous and can get into anything. Especially in grain growing areas some species of  cockatoo can reach plague proportions, outmanoeuvre a farmers efforts to stop feasting on their grain crops in the fields and the harvested grain in bulk storage sheds.

In my area there is the sulphur crested cockatoo who just loves being destructive with that powerful beak. Too many times they will snip off a head of sorghum only to drop it on the ground. A beady eye will give the fallen prize a momentary consideration before the bird decides its too much effort to go after it and simply snips off another.

A cockatoo named

" A new study published in the journal PLoS One finds that cockatoos, members of the parrot family, can figure out how to break through several complicated locks to get to a treat. Alex Kacelnik, a professor of zoology at Oxford University and author of the study, said that the birds themselves were very playful and inquisitive. "They're particularly keen on exploring new things," he told ABC News.
Kacelnik and his colleagues, Alice Auersperg and Auguste von Bayern at the University of Vienna, placed a cashew nut behind a window fastened shut by a thin metal bar. The birds had to get through four additional locks that required them to pull a pin, turn a screw, remove a bolt, and rotate a wheel to reach the reward. More importantly, they had to do those actions in the correct order.         
If a cockatoo completed the first task, the scientists then rearranged the order of the four locks. They wanted to see whether the birds could modify their lock-picking behavior by doing the same four actions but in a different sequence.
They were surprised at the cockatoos' flexible problem-solving skills. Regardless of the order of the locks, the birds worked through them one by one to get to the prized nut. "They're sensitive to how the problem is organized," he said. "They do whatever they have to do in the new circumstances."
The researchers may have been surprised but not the Aussie grain farmer who has on many occasions witnessed the crazy antics that many types of cockatoos can get up too and often their ability to be destructive.


  1. When I was a kid I was given a sulphur crested cockatoo by the local copper's son when his dad was transferred from our outer Townsville bush suburb. While I had him he was never caged and as we lived in a school house next to the state school where my Dad was the headmaster, he used to visit the school too. I can relate to Dale's story of the cockies snipping off the sorghum tops. My bird used to raid the free school milk deliveries for the kids and snip the tops off the bottles to drink the layer of cream at the top and would drink several before deciding he had satisfied his craving.
    He (or maybe she) also used to love watching us kids play cricket and chime in with cries of "Yer out, Yer out! He could also do a very good impersonation of a neighing horse.
    Eventually I had to leave him with an older married sister when Dad was transferred and then later she gave him to a neighbour in Townsville city. He was a real character and I always wished I had been allowed to keep him. Just a young bird too, so chances are he could still be alive today as they live a long time but he would have to be around 60 now.

  2. Sulphur crested cockatoos have been known to reach 100 years. They have been a common family pet and many families have accounts of what 'cockie' used to get into and the interesting vocabulary they developed.

    When you observe them in the wild it is obvious where the term "silly as a galah" comes from. Watch a flock of galahs on a powerline, the acrobatics they get up to.

  3. The cockatoos are also a bit like crows in the wild too in that they post a scout to keep watch over the flock while they feed in the bush. At least they used to when I was a kid. You would always spot one high up in a tree who would screech a warning if any young reprobate who didn't know any better came too close with an air rifle or a 'shanghai'.


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