HONOLULU (HawaiiNewsNow) - Scientists this week announced an incredible discovery about one of Hawaii's critically endangered native birds. An international team of scientists say the Alala, or Hawaiian crow, can proficiently use sticks as tools.
The birds were seen using sticks to dig into holes for food. The skill is so rare, it's only found in less than one percent of all species, researchers say.
The team studied 109 birds living in captivity at the San Diego Zoo. They found that 104 of the birds could use tools on their own.
"Current evidence strongly suggests that tool use is part of the species' natural behavioral repertoire, rather than being a quirk that arose in captivity," said the study's lead scientist, Christian Rutz, Ph.D. "Using tools comes naturally to Alala. These birds had no specific training prior to our study, yet most of them were incredibly skilled at handling stick tools and even swiftly extracted bait from demanding tasks."
The birds are extinct in the wild, but another 115 Alala were brought into a captive breeding program on the Big Island years ago. Biologists plan to release 12 Alala into the Puu Makaala Natural Area Reserve later this month. If all goes well, the team will release 12 more Alala each year for the next four years. This follows a failed attempt in the 1990s, when 21 Alala died from disease and predation.
Researchers believe this new discovery could help save the species from extinction.