© 2021 Maine Public
Play Live Radio
Next Up:
Available On Air Stations
Environment and Outdoors

We've Been Underestimating Puffins, And They've Been Using Tools

Maine Public
Puffins on Eastern Egg Rock, with a bird blind in the background.

New research published this week documents evidence of puffins using tools. Study authors say it's the first known use of tools in seabirds, suggesting their cognitive abilities may have been previously underestimated.

Credit PNAS
Screenshots of a puffin scratching with a stick.

The first time a puffin was seen using a tool was in Wales in 2014. According to the research, published Monday in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, scientists witnessed an adult puffin hold a stick in its bill and use it to scratch its back for several seconds. Four years later, a motion-activated camera captured a puffin using a tool in Iceland. The 10-second video shows an adult puffin waddle to a small stick, pick it up with its bill, then use it to scratch its chest feathers.

Report authors say tool use is common among animals for feeding, but, until now, only primates and elephants have been observed in the wild scratching with a tool. This new evidence, scientists say, suggests that seabirds such as puffins may be better problem solvers than previously thought.