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Photo: Megan Lambert, University of York via Christian Science Monitor

Parrots may use ‘grinding’ tool to make puke more nutritious

OK–so humans obviously use tools. But, of course, we are not the only animals that can use tools.

Now, scientists and researchers have discovered evidence for the first “grinding” tool associated with a non-human. And its an unlikely animal that uses it: wild parrots.

They use pebbles to grind supplements out of shells, and it could be to make their puke more nutritious for their mates. This, and the remainder of the findings a set of 10 captive greater vasa parrots (Coracopsis vasa), was published by researchers from the University of York and University of St. Andrews in Biology Letters Tuesday.

Over eight months, researchers noticed something very interesting. Half of the parrots got a calcium boost by breaking up seashells in their cages with their beaks. And the other half used date pits or pebbles to grind and scrape those shells into powder. Then, they licked them from the tool, Washington Post reports.

“What’s also particularly interesting is that we observed a lot of tool transfer, where one bird would actually approach group members and steal the tool directly from their beak, and then go on to use it on a shell,” said Megan Lambert, lead study author and doctoral student of psychology at the University of York.

This is extremely rare. “The use of tools by nonhuman animals remains an exceedingly rare phenomenon,” Lambert said in a press release. “These observations provide new insights into the tool-using capabilities of parrots and give rise to further questions as to why this species uses tools.”

It’s unclear if the birds are passing on their ways from individual-to-individual or if it’s innate for birds to ingest food from tools and such.

“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,” Lambert said to Discovery News.

She added: “Tool use could reflect an innate predisposition in the parrots, or it could be the result of individual trial and error learning or some form of social learning.”

“Whether these birds also use tools in the wild remains to be explored, but ultimately these observations highlight the greater vasa parrot as a species of interest for further studies of physical cognition,” Lambert explained.

Lambert and her research team are hoping to discover more about the motivation behind the scraping of the calcium using tools or not using them. Bird bones do not store calcium in the way humans do, so it makes sense that the parrots would want to take in calcium. Plus it’s great for eggshell health.

However, four out of five parrots who used the tools to get their calcium were male. And they shouldn’t have to worry about it so much.

Apparently, the answer could be puke. Yes, puke. Males are frequently observed observed practicing “regurgitative feedings” with females just before mating. According to The Post, they could be taking in calcium “to shore up their sweetheart’s reserves” during copulation.

About Meredith Rodefer

Meredith Rodefer
Meredith Rodefer is a freelance writer, who focuses on anything from lifestyle blogging to hard news, and dancer. Beyond Youth Independent, she has written for sites such as Natmonitor.com, CheekyChicago.com and FamilyFocusBlog.com. Contact Meredith: meredith.rodefer@youthindependent.com