Not to be dramatic, but I would die for Bruce the kea. The disabled parrot lives in at the Willowbank Wildlife Reserve in Christchurch, New Zealand. He’s missing the upper part of his beak, but that doesn’t stop him from looking fabulous. He’s figured out how to preen without it.
Bruce’s self-care routine involves finding a perfect pebble, rolling it around with his tongue and then holding it against his lower bill while he cleans his feathers. A team of researchers published a study on Bruce’s skills in the journal Scientific Reports last week.
“Although anecdotal reports exist for self-care tool use in pet parrots, this form of tool use is rare in the wild, and this is the first time it has been observed in a kea,” the University of Auckland said in a statement on Friday. “It is also the first scientific observation of a parrot using a pebble for self-care.”
The researchers tracked Bruce’s pebbly behavior for nine days and noted that 90% of the time he picked up a pebble, he used it to preen. If he dropped it, he would pick it back up or find a replacement to continue working on his feathers. He was also consistent about the size of his pebbles. All these observations point to intentional tool use.
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Bruce was rescued from the wild in 2013. Researchers suspect his injury might be due to a run-in with a pest trap. His lives with other kea in an aviary. Bruce is given soft food that’s easy to handle without a full beak, but he’s also figured out how to press harder foods against other objects in order to eat.
The university’s Animal Minds Lab released a video showing Bruce’s work with both the pebble and the harder foods.
None of Bruce’s kea buddies in the aviary have shown pebble-preening behavior, indicating it’s a behavior he invented himself.
Said lead author Amalia Bastos, “Kea do not regularly display tool use in the wild, so to have an individual innovate tool use in response to his disability shows great flexibility in their intelligence.” Bruce isn’t just a pretty bird; he’s a smart, resourceful bird.