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Research Fellow discovers evidence of tool use in seabirds

8 January 2020

Browne Junior Research Fellow in Biological Sciences Dr Annette Fayet has just published a paper documenting novel cases of tool use in Atlantic puffins.  She observed two puffins at their breeding colonies, one in Wales and the other in Iceland (the latter captured on camera), spontaneously using a small wooden stick to scratch their bodies.

The importance of these observations is three-fold. First, while to date only a single form of body-care-related tool use has been recorded in wild birds (anting), her finding shows that the wild avian tool-use repertoire is wider than previously thought and extends to contexts other than food extraction. Second, the taxonomic breadth of tool use has now been expanded to include another group of birds, seabirds, and a different suborder (Lari). And third, her independent observations span a distance of more than 1,700 km, suggesting that occasional tool use may be widespread in this group, and that seabirds’ physical cognition may have been underestimated.

You can read the full paper here: https://www.pnas.org/content/early/2019/12/24/1918060117 and see the puffin caught on camera below (read the accompanying article here:  https://www.washingtonpost.com/science/2019/12/30/rare-video-shows-puffin-using-tool-scratch-an-itch/).

puffin in flight