Think ‘Birdbrain’ Is an Insult? Think Again.

Meet Figaro, a Goffin’s cockatoo. He taught himself how to turn cardboard into a tool. Birds, it turns out, are actually brainiacs.

TOOLMAKING. At a research aviary in Austria, inventive Figaro shows off the device he made to retrieve a cashew. His first tool was a piece of bamboo to rake in a pebble he’d dropped outside the aviary fence.
PHOTOGRAPHED AT THE GOFFIN LAB, MESSERLI RESEARCH INSTITUTE, UNIVERSITY OF VETERINARY MEDICINE VIENNA

The American crows in Gabriella Mann’s Seattle Neighborhood love her, and the eight-year-old girl has the goods to prove it. She places a plastic jewelry box on a kitchen counter and lifts the lid.

Each small compartment holds a treasure, a gift, that the crows have given her: a gold bead, a pearl earring, a screw, a red Lego piece, colored and clear glass chips, a chicken bone, a pebble, a quartz crystal, and many more.

Though slightly soiled, all are stored as carefully as rare artifacts, dated, and categorized. Gabi selects two that she calls her First Favorites, and holds them up for me to admire. One is a pearly-pink heart charm, the other a tiny, silver rectangle with the word “BEST” engraved on one side. “It’s because they love me,” she says about the seemingly thoughtful objects, adding that she expects the birds will leave her a “FRIEND” charm one day. “They know everything I like—toys and shiny things—because they watch me. They’re like spies.”

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