Back in 2002, Betty the New Caledonian crow made headlines when she was observed bending a piece of garden wire into a hook-shaped tool to solve a puzzle made by researchers from Oxford University.
The video below illustrates this incredible behavior:
It was believed that this behavior to solve the puzzle meant that Betty had some sort of above-average intelligence for her species and had the ability to problem-solve on the fly.
Although the surprising feat of intelligence probably surprised many at the time, it’s becoming more and more known that there are a number of bird species that actually use “tools” they create to help search for food in the wild, and as such, Betty’s turning of the garden wire into a hook really doesn’t seem to be all that out of the ordinary.
A new idea published in Royal Society Open Science suggests it probably wasn’t above-average intelligence at all, as all crows seem to do similar tricks naturally in the wild. Although the wild tends to deal with twigs and other malleable materials, a piece of garden wire isn’t all that different.
Biologists from the University of St. Andrews had reportedly observed New Caledonian crows in their natural habitat and found that this sort of behavior is actually commonplace. They placed objects that could be used for tool-making in the habitat and waited to see what would happen.
“We had provided wild-caught crows with juicy treats hidden in wooden logs, as well as with their preferred plant material for tool manufacture,” said lead researcher Dr Christian Rutz “We were absolutely over the moon when the birds started making and using tools in our field aviaries.”
After it was all said and done, the birds had reportedly configured the materials the same was Betty had in her initial puzzle-solving experience, despite the fact that there was no puzzle to solve.
This conclusion leads researchers to believe that all wild crows of Betty’s kind may actually exhibit this behavior naturally without any above-average intelligence for their kind. The initial experiment was far too closed and too little was known about the species to draw conclusions.
“Our study is a powerful reminder of the importance of basic natural history research,” notes Dr Rutz: “When my Oxford colleagues studied Betty’s cognitive abilities almost 15 years ago very little was known about how these birds make and use tools in their natural tropical habitat. Our discovery of tool bending in wild New Caledonian crows has come as a complete surprise, and was the result of patient field research.”
Source: The Royal Society Publishing