A team of ecologists has recently used tail-mounted crow cams to catch wild New Caledonian crows making and using hook-like tools. For those who don’t know: the wild New Caledonian crows are known for showcasing intelligent tool tricks. However, studying the behavior of this crow species in the wild has always been difficult.
The tiny cameras used for capturing the tool making activities of the bird stare towards the front beneath the bellies of the birds and record precious uninhibited footage. Other than catching the crows crafting unique foraging hooks, the team of ecologists also succeeded in tracking other activities of those birds over time.
The particular camera allowed the scientists to have a glimpse of the natural lives of the wild New Caledonian crows. However, in spite of all these, they haven’t yet managed to solve the mystery of what exactly drives these crows to make and use tools. Christian Rutz, the senior author of the study, described it as “the big money question”. Dr. Rutz represents the University of St Andrews in the United Kingdom.
Dr. Rutz feels that the answer to the question: why the New Caledonian crows make and use tools and no other corvid species does lies in the time budgets on these birds. He believes looking at these birds’ time budget and then finding out how much importance tool use holds in their day to day lives and what kind of preys they need to manage with tools will help scientists to find an accurate answer to the question.
The almost 12 hour long crow cam footage captured by the ecologists has been described in detail in the popular scientific journal Biology Letters. Surprisingly, Dr. Rutz and his colleagues managed to catch very little tool time on the special camera.
Dr. Rutz informed that just around 3% of their total observation time saw the crows crafting or using tools. That’s not all; just 4 out of the ten subjects caught on camera were found to pick up the foraging hooks. The crows were found to spend much more time foraging by means of their beaks.
The footage showed that the crows spend a considerable amount of time tearing strips from trees. The beaks of these birds are sturdy enough to perform this job competently. However, Rutz informed that from time to time the birds switched to tools when performing the same job on the same tree. This finding has left the ecologists puzzled.