• picture
  • picture
  • picture
  • picture
Public Radio's Environmental News Magazine (follow us on Google News)

Note on Emerging Science: Puffins Use Tools

Air Date: Week of

stream/download this segment as an MP3 file

A puffin plucks blades of grass to carry to its nest. (Photo: Tomek Niedzwiedz, Flickr, Public Domain)

Crows are known to use tools, and now the first time, scientists have documented the use of tools by the puffin, a black and white seabird found in the North Atlantic. Living on Earth’s Don Lyman reports on the finding that puffins use sticks to scratch their beaks and feathers, the first documentation of tool use in seabirds.

Transcript

CURWOOD: It’s Living on Earth, I’m Steve Curwood.

BASCOMB: And I’m Bobby Bascomb just ahead, progress on tackling climate change from China and California but first this note on emerging science from Don Lyman.

[SCIENCE NOTE THEME]

LYMAN: For the first time, scientists have documented the use of tools by puffins, a black and white seabird found in the North Atlantic. Annette Fayet, an ecologist from the University of Oxford, first observed a puffin off the coast of Wales using a stick to scratch its back in 2014. Four years later, on Grimsey Island in Iceland, Dr. Fayet’s recorded a puffin picking up a stick and using the stick to scratch its chest feathers. The observations were published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences. Researchers said they are the only known examples of birds in the wild using tools to scratch themselves.


Atlantic puffins touch bills as a part of a courtship ritual. (Photo: U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, Flickr, Public Domain)

The scientists speculate that the puffins may have been trying to remove ticks from their feathers, as ticks are a common parasite in puffins. Scientists have known for some time that other birds use tools. Crows use sticks to extract food from holes in logs and Egyptian vultures crack ostrich eggs open with rocks. But this is the first known case of seabirds using tools. The researchers said that the discovery in puffins suggests that tool use in birds may be more widespread than previously thought. That’s this week’s note on emerging science. I’m Don Lyman.

 

Links

Find out more about Dr. Fayet’s research on her website

ZME Science | “Puffins Are Now Using Tools – And It’s Making Them Feel Much Better”

PNAS.org | “Evidence of Tool Use in a Seabird”

AAAS | “Watch a Puffin Use a Tool – To Scratch an Itch”

JSTOR Daily | “Puffins Seen Using Tools, Breaking Dumb-Puffin Stereotypes”

 

Living on Earth wants to hear from you!

P.O. Box 990007
Prudential Station
Boston, MA, USA 02199
Telephone: 1-617-287-4121
E-mail: comments@loe.org

Newsletter [Click here]

Donate to Living on Earth!
Living on Earth is an independent media program and relies entirely on contributions from listeners and institutions supporting public service. Please donate now to preserve an independent environmental voice.

Newsletter
Living on Earth offers a weekly delivery of the show's rundown to your mailbox. Sign up for our newsletter today!

Sailors For The Sea: Be the change you want to sea.

Creating positive outcomes for future generations.

Innovating to make the world a better, more sustainable place to live. Listen to the race to 9 billion

The Grantham Foundation for the Protection of the Environment: Committed to protecting and improving the health of the global environment.

Energy Foundation: Serving the public interest by helping to build a strong, clean energy economy.

Contribute to Living on Earth and receive, as our gift to you, an archival print of one of Mark Seth Lender's extraordinary wildlife photographs. Follow the link to see Mark's current collection of photographs.

Buy a signed copy of Mark Seth Lender's book Smeagull the Seagull & support Living on Earth