Crows Caught On Camera Building Special Hook Tools

First Posted: Dec 28, 2015 08:23 AM EST

Researchers have captured the first video recording that documents how crows build and apply complex tools in the wild. The researchers created tiny spy-cameras, which were attached to the crows, so that they can observe the corvids' behavior, according to a study at University of Exeter.

The researchers discovered two instances of hooked stick tool making in their video, where one crow spent a minute building the tool, which is used to explore for food in tree creases and in leaf litter on the ground.

"While fieldworkers had previously obtained brief glimpses of hooked stick tool manufacture, the only video footage to date came from baited feeding sites, where tool raw materials and probing tasks had been provided to crows by scientists," Dr Jolyon Troscianko, coauthor of the study said in a news release. "We were keen to get close-up video of birds making these tools under completely natural conditions."

In order to get a "crow's-eye view" their behavior, the researchers developed video cameras which were attached to the crows' tail fathers. The cameras had the same weight as a British 2-pound coin with an integrated radio beacon, which allowed the researchers to recover the devices when they were safely detached a few days later.

"In one scene, a crow drops its tool, and then recovers it from the ground shortly afterwards, suggesting they value their tools and don't simply discard them after a single use," Troscianko said.

The cameras store video footage on a micro-SD card, which is similar to the ones in smart phones. By gathering this video footage, the researchers can obtain new insights about the importance of tools and how crows use them to explore for food.

"Crows really hate losing their tools, and will use all sorts of tricks to keep them safe. We even observed them storing tools temporarily in tree holes, the same way a human would put a treasured pen into a pen holder," said Dr. Christian Rutz, coauthor of the study.

The findings of this study were published in the journal Biology Letters.

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