Kea invent tools to probe trap boxes

First they came for our windshield wipers, then our road cones, and now New Zealand's cheeky alpine parrot has learned to use tools.

A study of kea in Fiordland, released in journal Scientific Reports yesterday, is the first scientific documentation of tool use by non-human animals in the wild in New Zealand.

It shows kea in the Murchison Mountains Special Area invented tool use to repeatedly probe into trap boxes housing stoat traps and food bait.

The study says, over two and a-half years, sticks were found inserted into at least 227 different trap boxes, suggesting more than one of the birds was trying to pry them open for a snack.

Research started after then University of Canterbury student Mat Goodman was working in the area with a documentary team in 2014.

After first having several cameras ripped to pieces, he eventually managed to catch the birds red-clawed.

They appeared to whittle the sticks to make them the right size and attempt to use them to take the treats inside.

He then sent the footage to Auckland University senior research fellow Gavin Hunt, who had studied tool use in the New Caledonian crow.

Dr Hunt said it was a rare event and important in learning how tool use developed.

This fitted with the "cognitive constraints'' theory of how tool use developed.

The paper was written by Mr Goodman, Dr Hunt and Thomas Hayward.

Last year kea were filmed shifting road cones on the Te Anau to Milford Highway.

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