Scientists in the Field
Spiral Notebook
A New Species of Tool-Using Crow
by Pamela Turner
November 3, 2016
 
A New Species of Tool-Using Crow
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As described in the newest “Scientists in the Field” title, CROW SMARTS, the New Caledonian crow is famous for its tool-using and tool-making abilities. As it turns out, another crow species may also be a natural tool-user: the Hawaiian crow, also known as the ʻalalā. Hawaiian crows have been extinct in the wild since the early 2000s, and today the entire species–approximately 100 birds–survives only in captivity.

Scientists suspected that the Hawaiian crows might also use tools in the wild because the species has physical adaptations that are similar to those of New Caledonian crows: a straighter bill and more forward-pointing eyes than other crow species. These characteristics may have evolved because they improve the crows’ ability to manipulate stick tools. When captive Hawaiian crows were given stick tools and logs with hidden treats, 93% of all adult birds successfully extracted food. Many crows also modified their tools. Watch the video of these brainy birds in action…and compare to videos of New Caledonian crows.

A captive breeding program hopes to someday return the crows to their island home. When that happens, scientists will be eager to see what Hawaiian crows do with sticks!

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About Pamela Turner

Pamela S. Turner lives in Oakland, California with her children and her husband. She has a B.A. in social science from UCAL-Irvine and a Master’s of public health from UCAL-Berkeley. She has written numerous books for young readers, including Hachiko and the Scientists in the Field titles Gorilla Doctors: Saving Endangered Great Apes, The Frog Scientist, Project Seahorse, The Dolphins of Shark Bay and her forthcoming work, Crow Smarts. Visit her website at pamelasturner.com.

 

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