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Cockatoos can create tools of different lengths
Birds made much longer cardboard strips when a food reward was further away

Researchers assess birds’ tool-making behaviour

Goffin’s cockatoos pay attention to specific functional features of their tools while they are making them, according to new research.

Previous studies showed the birds could spontaneously make long fishing or probing tools by biting them out of different materials, including cardboard. The birds would make parallel bite marks alongside the edge of the material, like a hole puncher, and then use their upper beak to cut the piece out of the cardboard.

But a new study published in Plos ONE shows that the birds can adjust the length of their tools as required by cutting longer or shorter sticks out of cardboard - even rejecting those tools they deem unsuitable.

In the study, researchers from Vetmeduni Vienna and the University of Vienna found the birds made much longer cardboard strips when a food reward was further away, and shorter strips when food was closer to the probing hole.

“If they do make tools that are not long enough to breach the distance between the food reward and the probing hole they usually discard them before even trying to insert them into the box and immediately make a longer one” explains Carina Köck, a student who conducted the study.

“They even discard notably longer tools when the food is far away than when it is close.”

Researchers said the way the animals showed flexibility in their tool-making behaviour demonstrated they can at least learn to pay attention to different conditions.

But whilst the birds were able to adjust the length of their tools, it seemed they were not able to adjust them to the width openings. Even when the diameter of the probing hole varied, the cockatoos continued to make strips of similar width.

The team believes the limitation is due to how wide the birds can open their beak.

“The lower edge of the upper beak takes a steep curve from the beak tip to the corner of their mouth. The edge of the cardboard block is pressed into the deepest possible point of that curve during tool making,” said Carina.

“This is most likely done for support. Meanwhile, the beak tip was used to cut through the material. This means that the distance between the beak tip and the curve restricted the width of their tools.”

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Endangered turtles rescued from smugglers

News Story 1
 A group of endangered turtles have found a new home at London Zoo after being rescued from smugglers.

The four big-headed turtles arrived at the zoo at the end of last year, after smugglers tried to illegally import them to Canada, labelled as toys.

One of the turtles, named Lady Triệu after a Vietnamese warrioress, has moved to a new exhibit in the zoo’s reptile house. She is the only one of her kind in a UK zoo.

Big-headed turtles have such large heads that they cannot pull them back into their shells. To compensate, they have armour plating from head to tail and a very sharp beak to fend off predators. They are ranked number 18 on ZSL’s EDGE of Existence reptile list, which puts threatened species at the forefront of conservation action. Image © ZSL  

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RCVS Fellowship board chair elections get underway

Voting for the 2019 RCVS Fellowship Chair election is now underway. This year four candidates are standing for election, including Dr Robert Huey, Professor John Innes, Professor Liz Mossop and Professor Ian Ramsey.

The Chair will attend and preside over Fellowship meetings and take the lead in consolidating the Fellowship’s position as the learned society of the RCVS. Fellows will receive an email containing a link to the online voting form, as well as candidates’ details and manifestos. Voting closes at 5pm on Thursday, 5 September.