Parrots use pebbles to grind mineral powder from seashells

December 16th, 2015 | by LubosTomiska
Parrots use pebbles to grind mineral powder from seashells

A new evidence of tool use in parrots was discovered in parrots. In spring 2013, Megan Lambert (the research team leader) observed strange behaviour in captive kept Greater Vasa Parrots (Coracopsis vasa). She saw them moving on the ground while having a pebble in their beak. The interesting thing was that the birds were using the pebble to grind up own mineral supplement from seashells.

The team of researchers have been studying ten captive Greater Vasa Parrots in the Department of Psychology at York for an eight month period. Observed birds were not using only pebbles but also date pits. With these “tools” parrots can break the seashell on small pieces so it’s possible to digest it. There haven’t been observed any other kind of “grinding behaviour” in animals before.

It’s been found that Greater Vasa Parrots consume more of grinded seashell just before the breeding season. Surprisingly, males have greater interest in calcium than females.


“Using tools to grind seashells is something never seen before in animals.”

(Megan Lambert)


How did they learn it?

It’s more than interesting that parrots were also sharing pebbles or date pits.

“It’s quite unique that tools are transferred directly between birds, as this is not commonly observed in the animal kingdom and may provide clues as to how this behaviour came about in the first place,” says Lambert for Discovery News.

Anyway, important question is – how these birds learned to do this?

“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,” said Megan Lambert for Discovery News.


What other birds use tools?

We have broad evidence of using tools in many bird species including parrots. For example, Woodpecker finch (Camarhynchus pallidus) can get insect larvae from wood with twigs. Several species of vultures drop stones on eggs to crack them. As for parrots, using of tools is well known in Palm Cockatoos (Probosciger atterimus) which drum with twigs on tree trunks.

The Kea Parrot (Nestor notabilis) with the label of the most intelligent parrot was tested for several times for using tools in a lab. These birds are able to do that, however we are not sure if this is natural behaviour or not.


Title photo: (c)  AEM. This file is licensed under the Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 3.0 Unported license.


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