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Wild-caught great tits Parus major fail to use tools in a laboratory experiment, despite facilitation

  • Robin D. Johnsson
  • Anders Brodin
Publishing year: 2019-02-22
Language: English
Pages: 324-331
Publication/Series: Ethology
Volume: 125
Issue: 5
Document type: Journal article
Publisher: Wiley-Blackwell

Abstract english

Studies investigating tool use in animals that are not known tool users in the wild are important in helping to understand how and under what circumstances this ability might arise. Tool use appears to be uncommon in great tits (Parus major), with only a single documented observation in which a wild great tit used conifer needles to extract larvae from crevices in trees. In a laboratory-based experiment, we examined whether wild-caught great tits could learn to use tools in a similar manner. We presented the birds with two different tool use tasks in which they would need to use either a stick or a hook to extract an otherwise inaccessible meal worm from a transparent plastic tube. First, the birds passed a simpler training criterion (pulling a tool with an attached food reward) that aimed to reduce the difficulty of the task. Nevertheless, none of the individuals learnt to use tools in either of the two tasks. This result stands in stark contrast to the abilities of some corvids and parrots, which can learn to use tools in captivity, even though some of them are not tool users in the wild. We believe that tool use might be difficult for some birds to learn since the skills required for this ability seem not to be part of their natural foraging behaviour.


  • Behavioral Sciences Biology
  • animal cognition
  • birds
  • foraging
  • learning
  • Paridae
  • tool use


  • ISSN: 0179-1613
Anders Brodin
E-mail: anders [dot] brodin [at] biol [dot] lu [dot] se


Evolutionary ecology

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