Tool use by wild New Caledonian crows Corvus moneduloides at natural foraging sites.
Bluff LA., Troscianko J., Weir AAS., Kacelnik A., Rutz C.
New Caledonian crows Corvus moneduloides use tools made from sticks or leaf stems to 'fish' woodboring beetle larvae from their burrows in decaying wood. Previous research on this behaviour has been confined to baited sites, leaving its ecological context and significance virtually unexplored. To obtain detailed observations of natural, undisturbed tool use, we deployed motion-triggered video cameras at seven larva-fishing sites. From 1797 camera hours of surveillance over 111 days, we recorded 317 site visits by at least 14 individual crows. Tool use was observed during 150 site visits. Our video footage revealed notable variation in foraging success among identifiable crows. Two nutritionally independent, immature crows spent considerable time using tools, but were much less successful than local adults, highlighting the potential role of individual and social learning in the acquisition of tool-use proficiency. During systematic surveys of larva-fishing sites, we collected 193 tools that crows had left inserted in larva burrows. Comparing these tools with the holes in which they were found, and with raw materials available around logs, provides evidence for tool selectivity by New Caledonian crows under natural conditions. Taken together, these two complementary lines of investigation provide, to our knowledge, the first quantitative description of larva fishing by wild crows in its full ecological context.