In world-first, kea uses tool to preen after losing half its beak

Ryan Boswell
Source: 1News

A kea by the name of Bruce is making world history by keeping himself clean.

Bruce the kea.

The endangered parrot moved into Christchurch’s Willowbank Wildlife Reserve in 2013, with the upper half of his beak missing.

It’s believed he had an accident in the wild with a pest trap.

Scientists from the University of Auckland observed Bruce over nine days and noticed he was using a pebble to preen his feathers.

Lead author Amalia Bastos said it’s the first evidence of tool use by a kea for the purposes of self-care.

First, Bruce will pick up a pebble that’s always similar in size, before rolling it underneath his tongue.

He will run his feathers between the stone and his lower beak.

“There’s several occasion when we’ve observed him picking a stone and then discarding it and then picking up another one.

“It seems like he is looking for some property of the stone that makes it more useful as a cleaning tool,” Bastos said.

Author Patrick Wood said because Bruce’s behaviour was consistent and repeated, it was regarded as intentional.

More than 90 per cent of instances where Bruce picked up a pebble, he then went on to use it to help preen. No other bird in the aviary used pebbles while preening.

“It demonstrates a really flexible intelligence because it means he’s been able to create his own solution to a problem unique to him,” Wood said.

Bruce was also observed crushing hard foods by crushing them against a hard surface.

Kea would normally be able to just use their beaks to break the likes of vegetables and nuts.

“We haven’t had any reports of kea in the wild doing this, so it seems to be very particular to Bruce," Bastos said.

“It would make sense because he’s the only kea with this disability."

The study is being published in Scientific Reports, which is expected to provide a new framework for observing rare behaviours.