Extinct in the Wild: Captive Hawaiian Crows Use Tools

Researchers have documented a species of tropical corvid (crow) effectively using tools (e.g. sticks, twigs) to forage. The paper Discovery of species-wide tool use in the Hawaiian crow, published in the journal Nature, documented the foraging behavior of 104 ‘Alalā (C. hawaiiensis), or Hawaiian crows.

The authors of the paper found that 78 percent of the 104 ‘Alalā “spontaneously used tools,” meaning that the birds were not prompted or taught to use them — they picked up tools, which were not supplied to them, on their own. Furthermore, they used these tools to extract meat placed in a hollowed out log. If the birds picked up a tool that didn’t work well to extract the meat, they replaced it with a different tool and tried again.

The scientists who authored the study also wanted to know if ‘Alalā were genetically predisposed for tool use. To test this, they raised seven juvenile’Alalā . The young birds did not witness other ‘Alalā using tools, but they did so on their own — four of the seven were successful at foraging with tools.

Wild ‘Alalā became extinct in early 2000 and only 109 remain in captivity. ‘Alalā  became extinct because of habitat destruction across Hawaii. Therefore, these studies were carried out in a captive environment and at this time it is unknown if ‘Alalā used tools in the wild. There are plans to reintroduce captive ‘Alalā to the wild.

Footage documenting ‘Alalā tool use can be found here and a video, from Nature’s YouTube channel, featuring ‘Alalā using tools can be viewed below or on their YouTube channel: