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O'Neill, Laurie; Rasyidi, Rahman; Hastings, Ronan and Bayern, Auguste M. P. von (2020): Innovative problem solving in macaws. In: Learning & Behavior, Vol. 49, No. 1: pp. 106-123

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Behavioural innovations with tool-like objects in non-habitually tool-using species are thought to require complex physical understanding, but the underlying cognitive processes remain poorly understood. A few parrot species are capable of innovating tool-use and borderline tool-use behaviours. We tested this capacity in two species of macaw (Ara ambiguus, n = 9;Ara glaucogularis, n = 8) to investigate if they could solve a problem-solving task through manufacture of a multi-stone construction. Specifically, after having functional experience with a pre-inserted stick tool to push a reward out of a horizontal tube, the subjects were required to insert five stones consecutively from one side to perform the same function as the stick tool with the resulting multi-component construction. One Ara glaucogularis solved the task and innovated the stone construction after the experience with the stick tool. Two more subjects (one of each species) did so after having further functional experience of a single stone pushing a reward out of a shortened tube. These subjects were able to consistently solve the task, but often made errors, for example counter-productive stone insertions from the opposing end, even in some of the successful trials. Conversely, multiple trials without errors also suggested a strong goal direction. Their performance in the follow-up tasks was inconclusive since they sometimes inserted stones into un-baited or blocked 'dummy tubes', but this could have been an attention-deficit behaviour as subjects had not encountered these 'dummy tubes' before. Overall, the successful subjects' performance was so erratic that it proved difficult to conclude whether they had functional understanding of their multi-stone constructions.

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