Troscianko, Jolyon Tomasz (2012)
Ph.D. thesis, University of Birmingham.
New Caledonian crows are amongst the most sophisticated tool-users in the animal kingdom. In this thesis I present my findings from various aspects of the crows’ behavioural ecology, morphology and cognition, contributing to our understanding of how this fascinating tool-use behaviour might have evolved. My studies in the field reveal new types of tool manufacture and foraging behaviour that help to build up a complete picture of the ecological importance of tool-use to wild crows. Additionally I demonstrate the subtlety and skill required to extract wood boring beetle larvae from their burrows, accounting for the slow development of tool-use proficiency in juvenile crows. Further work reveals how their unique visual field combines with a peculiarly straight bill to facilitate tool-use; perhaps the only evidence outside of the hominid hand for tool-use specific morphology. Recent studies suggest Corvus species are behaviourally and cognitively predisposed to become tool-users, however, through multiple lines of enquiry this thesis highlights the costs that New Caledonian crows bear in order to become successful tool-users. The unique ecological conditions in New Caledonia are likely to have made this costly form of foraging possible, helping to explain why tool-use is so rarely observed in other animals.
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