Call Me Bird Brain, I Don’t Care

Do cockatoos have better problem solving skills than young children?


Sometimes you will someone refer to someone else as a brain brain meaning they are silly or stupid.

But being called a bird brain is quite a compliment especially if that bird brain is a Goffin’s cockatoo (Cacatua goffiniana).

Reported in The Daily Telegraph on 8 November, scientists in Austria discovered that cockatoos rival apes and human four-year-olds in their ability to invent and fashion complex tools to reach food.

Cockatoos are capable of sizing-up the length of poking device to reach some seeds through a hole in a box and then make it from a piece of cardboard.

The video showing this is impressive.

Alice Auerspberg et al (2018) conclude,

our findings support previous studies on Goffins showing that they can not only select but create different tools depending on the task at hand.They show very high success rates using self-manufactured pieces of material and could adjust their cut-out tools to different conditions.

Cockatoos are certainly clever birds because they have also shown they can pick locks, match shapes and ride miniature bicycles along a tightrope. Goffins have also learned to actually resist the temptation of eating a food item put in front of them in order to trade it for a better reward later.

Clever cockatoos can even bend hooks into straight wire to fish for food.

In a previous study it has been shown that “object permanence” cognitive abilities in cockatoos rival those of the great apes and young human children. Co-author Birgit Szabo, a cognitive biologist at the University of Vienna noted, “The majority of our eight birds readily and spontaneously solved transposition, rotation and translocation tasks.”

Pretty smart stuff for a bird that many people keep as pets lock in a cage and say “Pretty Polly” to.

Keeping an intelligent creature locked up always seems wrong to me. These birds have proven themselves to be explorative, playful, innovative, flexible and real problem solvers that persevere.

So, the next time you are stuck, ask a Goffin for some help. The chances are they will be able to fashion a solution for you.


Innovative tool-related problem-solving was found within this species’ cognitive resources in a previous study in 2012.

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