Do woodpecker finches acquire tool-use by social learning?

Sabine Tebbich, M Taborsky, B Fessl, D Blomqvist

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

141 Citations (Scopus)


Tool-use is widespread among animals, but except in primates the development of this behaviour is poorly known. Here, we report on the first experimental study to our knowledge of the mechanisms underlying the acquisition of tool-use in a bird species. The woodpecker finch Cactospiza pallida, endemic to the Galapagos Islands, is a famous textbook example of tool-use in animals. This species uses modified twigs or cactus spines to pry arthropods out of tree holes. Using nestlings and adult birds from the field, we tested experimentally whether woodpecker finches learn tool-use socially. We show that social learning is not essential for the development Of tool-use: all juveniles developed tool-use regardless of whether or not they had a tool-using model. However, we found that not all adult woodpecker finches used tools in our experiments. These non-tool-using individuals also did not learn this task by observing tool-using conspecifics. Our results suggest that tool-use behaviour depends on a very specific learning disposition that involves trial-and-error learning during a sensitive phase early in ontogeny.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)2189-2193
Number of pages5
JournalProceedings of the Royal Society of London Series B: Biological Sciences
Issue number1482
Publication statusPublished - 7 Nov 2001


  • tool-use
  • social learning
  • ontogeny
  • Darwin's finches


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