Function and flexibility of object exploration in kea and new caledonian crows

Research output: Contribution to journalArticle


A range of non-human animals frequently manipulate and explore objects in their environment, which may enable them to learn about physical properties and potentially form more abstract concepts of properties such as weight and rigidity. Whether animals can apply the information learned during their exploration to solve novel problems, however, and whether they actually change their exploratory behavior to seek functional information about objects have not been fully explored. We allowed kea (Nestor notabilis) and New Caledonian crows (Corvus moneduloides) to explore sets of novel objects both before and after encountering a task in which some of the objects could function as tools. Following this, subjects were given test trials in which they could choose among the objects they had explored to solve a tool-use task. Several individuals from both species performed above chance on these test trials, and only did so after exploring the objects, compared with a control experiment with no prior exploration phase. These results suggest that selection of functional tools may be guided by information acquired during exploration. Neither kea nor crows changed the duration or quality of their exploration after learning that the objects had a functional relevance, suggesting that birds do not adjust their behavior to explicitly seek this information.


  • Megan L. Lambert
  • Martina Schiestl
  • Raoul Schwing
  • Alex H. Taylor
  • Gyula K. Gajdon
  • Katie E. Slocombe
  • Amanda M. Seed
External organisations
  • University of York
  • University of Veterinary Medicine Vienna
  • University of Auckland
  • University of St Andrews
  • Max Planck Institute for the Science of Human History
  • University of Vienna
  • Medical University of Vienna
Research areas and keywords

Subject classification (UKÄ) – MANDATORY

  • Behavioral Sciences Biology


  • Cognition, Corvid, Object play, Object properties, Parrot, Tool use
Original languageEnglish
Article number170652
JournalRoyal Society Open Science
Issue number9
Publication statusPublished - 2017 Sep 27
Publication categoryResearch