From: Karlsruhe, Germany
Category: Ecology and Environment
Title of essay:Of crows and tools: Tool-using crows, culture, and what it means to be human
Barbara studied Zoology, Psychology, and Ecology at Heidelberg University, Germany and Copenhagen University, Denmark. After working at the Educational Department of the Natural History Museum in Karlsruhe, Germany, she moved to St. Andrews, Scotland for her doctoral research. Her thesis examined sources of variation in tool-oriented behaviour in the only two crow species known to show species-wide tool use – the New Caledonian and Hawaiian crows. After completing her PhD, Barbara worked on the ecological significance of tool-use in Hawaiian crows and supported the ongoing re-introduction efforts. Currently, Barbara is a Postdoc at the Max Planck Institute of Animal Behavior in Germany, where she investigates the spatial distribution of vocal and foraging traditions in wild Sulphur-crested cockatoos in Sydney, Australia. In her free time, she enjoys swimming, hiking and crafting.
My PhD research took me to a small archipelago in the South Pacific called New Caledonia, the home of the New Caledonian (NC) crow, Corvus moneduloides. Here, I explored the species’ tool-oriented behavior using a series of non-invasive experiments with wild-caught birds. I found that the birds can identify their preferred plant species for tool making from its stem alone (some can even identify it from only the leaves), that they look after their tools in between uses, and that their tool-making is not necessarily culturally transmitted.