Sunday, 8 January 2012

magpies, 4-inch nails and precursors of tool use

Our main bathroom doesn't have windows, instead it has a skylight for natural light, and that means you can lie in the bath, see birds (and the occasional Qantas commuter jet) fly overhead, and on one  occasion have the cat look down at you through the glass,

Yesterday morning I was wakened just after dawn by a tremendous repeated clatter - my first thought was the the cat had brought a rodent home and was chasing round the kitchen or the laundry, but no, it was a juvenile Australian magpie repeatedly picking up and dropping a four inch nail on the glass.

I stared at it, torn between trying to get it to bugger off and fascination with the behaviour, which looked as if it was trying to break the glass with the nail, perhaps a miscuing of an instinctive response to ice.

By the time I snapped to and went to get my phone to take a picture, the bird had flown off.

Crows are of course clever birds, and some species such as the New Caledonian crow are known for tool use but this is the first time I've heard of or seen such a behaviour in an Australian magpie ...

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