Greater vasa parrots use tools to make calcium powder for their own use, finds a new study. The method was completely-self-initiated, which also represents a new usage of tools among birds. It is the first time that any non-human has been observed making a nutritional supplement in order to accomplish its own needs.
Study’s lead author Megan Lambert from the University of York's Department of Psychology said, “Without witnessing the first tool using event, it's difficult to know how this behavior started, but the social system of these birds, and the fact that they share tools, would certainly support a scenario where tool use was transmitted socially after observing one innovative individual”.
Lambert along with colleagues noticed the tool-using behavior while they were monitoring 10 greater vasa parrots native to Madagascar. They have been kept captive at Lincolnshire Wildlife Park. The floor of their enclosure was having soil, cockleshells, wood chips and pebbles.
The researchers noticed that the parrots were using pebbles to break the shell and then grinding them into a fine powder, which they licked with their tongues. Birds cannot store calcium in their skeleton and may require more of it during breeding season that helps them with formation of their eggshells, made up of calcium.
This could be one of the possible explanations as to why these birds are so interested in the shells especially just before the breeding season. Another interesting finding was only male parrots grind seashells. There can be a possibility that during courtship and sex, vasa males spend a lot of time feeding their females.
Lambert said that greater vasa parrot’s flexible nature is also helping them to solve problems using its more complex cognitive abilities. The researchers noticed that these parrots directly transfer tools between birds.
It remains unclear as to how the animals have first accomplished the behavior of tool use and how it spreads in a group of animals.