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The ecology of tool-use in the woodpecker finch (Cactospiza pallida)

Authors

  • Sabine Tebbich,

    Corresponding author
    1. Konrad Lorenz Institute for Comparative Ethology, Savoyenstr. 1a, A-1160 Vienna, Austria.
    2. Max Planck Institute for Behavioural Physiology, D-82319 Seewiesen, Germany.
      * Correspondence: Present address: Sabine Tebbich, University of Cambridge, Department of Experimental Psychology, Downing Street, Cambridge CB2 3EJ, UK E-mail: tebbich@ss20.mpi-seewiesen.mpg.de
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  • Michael Taborsky,

    1. Konrad Lorenz Institute for Comparative Ethology, Savoyenstr. 1a, A-1160 Vienna, Austria.
    2. University of Bern, Zoological Institute, CH-3032 Hinterkappelen, Switzerland.
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  • Birgit Fessl,

    1. Konrad Lorenz Institute for Comparative Ethology, Savoyenstr. 1a, A-1160 Vienna, Austria.
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  • Michael Dvorak

    1. BirdLife Austria, Museumsplatz 1/10/8, A-1070 Wien, Austria.
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  • Editor, N. Perrin

* Correspondence: Present address: Sabine Tebbich, University of Cambridge, Department of Experimental Psychology, Downing Street, Cambridge CB2 3EJ, UK E-mail: tebbich@ss20.mpi-seewiesen.mpg.de

Abstract

Insects, mammals and birds are known to use tools, but empirical evidence of the ecological importance of tool-use is scarce. Here, we present the first ecological study of tool-use by a bird species. Woodpecker finches use twigs or cactus spines to pry arthropods out of tree-holes. We compared tool-use during wet and dry seasons in two different vegetation zones: the Arid Zone and the humid Scalesia Zone. In the Scalesia Zone, where food was abundant and easily accessible, woodpecker finches rarely used tools. In contrast, in the Arid Zone, where food was limited and hard to access, they obtained half of their prey using tools during the dry season. Tool-use enabled the birds to reach particularly large and otherwise inaccessible prey hidden in tree-holes. Our data suggest that tool-use in the woodpecker finch has evolved in response to the dry and unpredictable conditions in the coastal zone of the Galápagos Islands.

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