7 Clever Birds That Use Tools To Find Food

Watching birds is one of my favorite nature activities; to indulge that pursuit, I currently have five bird feeders hanging in my backyard. However, while it’s fun to watch the chickadees and black-headed phoebes flit back and forth outside my window as they feed, there are several clever birds who use tools to find their food.

Green Heron

You’ll most likely see this small heron (seen above) alone, and standing close to a small river or other body of water. However, green herons are hard to spot since they often frequent densely vegetated areas, where they seem to be hiding. They also love to catch fish, and sometimes they use tools to do that.

According to the Cornell Lab of Ornithology, “The Green Heron is one of the world’s few tool-using bird species. It creates fishing lures with bread crusts, insects, earthworms, twigs, feathers, and other objects, dropping them on the surface of the water to entice small fish.”


Photo Credit: thinkstock


The rook is a member of the corvid family, and they look very similar to crows. If you get close enough,  you’ll see that rooks have a patch of grey-white skin at the base of their bill, which distinguishes them from a crow. Also, the feathers around the legs looks shaggier.

Rooks are also very smart: even though they have a brain the size of a walnut, they know how to use tools to get their food. In this video with Dr. Chris Bird, a rook, who sees a worm floating on top of water but just out of reach, figures out that he can raise the level by putting stones into the water and get his worm.


Photo Credit: thinkstock


There are several parrots that use tools, but the kea is an unusual one, as the only truly alpine parrot in the world. Native to New Zealand, the kea is hated by farmers for its habit of attacking their sheep. It is found uniquely on the South Island of the country.

In this case, the kea uses a tool just for fun, and not just for food. In an effort to preserve the flightless birds of New Zealand, the Department of Conservation has installed numerous box-like stoat traps; keas have been filmed several times triggering these traps by stripping twigs and inserting them into gaps in these traps. Apparently they like the loud bang that happens when the trap is set off.


Photo Credit: thinkstock

Hyacinth Macaw

Another parrot that uses tools is the brilliant-blue hyacinth macaw, and this time it is for food. Macaws are the giants of the parrot world, and the hyacinth macaw is the largest species of macaw, growing to be up to 40 inches long. 

You can find these birds in three distinct areas today: southern Brazil, eastern Bolivia, and northeastern Paraguay. Experts believe it’s possible that there may be other smaller populations outside of these areas. Although they have enormous beaks, hyacinth macaws have often been observed using tools to break open nuts. One way they do this is by using a piece of wood as a wedge to get at those nuts.

Egyptian_vulture Photo Credit: Kovsik Nandy

Egyptian Vulture

Between 23 and 28 inches long, these are the smallest of all vultures. They have a wingspan of just 5.6 feet. These birds were worshipped in Egypt because of their ability to remove trash and remains of dead animals.

And they are very clever at obtaining food. They seem to understand that the shells of ostrich eggs are too hard to break by just pecking at them, so they use rocks to assist them. Jane Goodall, watching these birds in Tanzania, reported that the vultures will go as far as 50 yards away from the egg to find a good smashing tool.


Photo Credit: US Forest Service – Southern Region

Brown-headed Nuthatch

Returning to the United States, we find this bird, found almost exclusively in the pine forests of the southeastern states. There is also a small but declining population in the Bahamas.

How do they use tools? Brown-headed nuthatches use large pieces of bark to remove other flakes of bark from a tree, in order to expose hiding insects, which they then gobble up. Sometimes they use that piece of bark more than once and have been seen flying with the precious tool in their beak.


Photo Credit: thinkstock

Burrowing Owls

Who doesn’t love these cute faces? True to its name, the burrowing owl nests in a hole in the ground. Although it is perfectly capable of digging its own burrow, it often prefers to use one already provided, whether by prairie dogs, skunks, moles, or tortoises.

As a “tool” they frequently collect mammalian dung, which they use as a bait to attract dung beetles, one of their favorite foods.



Benten B.
Benten B3 years ago

This is a great post; it was very edifying. I look ahead in reading more of your work.open multiple links

Siyus Copetallus
Siyus Copetallus3 years ago

Thank you for sharing.

Sarah Hill
Sarah Hill3 years ago

cool birds

Holly Potthoff
Holly Potthoff3 years ago

Really loved the piece about the Kea in New Zealand. How clever and funny! I've always understood that intelligence in animals has NOTHING to do with the size of their brains, which is something they always told us when i was a kid. If people can reduce the size of a computer from a whole room to something you can hold in your hand, just imagine what God can do!

Corey Brideau
Corey Brideau3 years ago


Muriel Servaege
Muriel Servaege3 years ago

Thank you for sharing.

Paulinha Russell
Paulinha Russell3 years ago

Thank you

Joseph Belisle
Joseph Belisle3 years ago

Too many of us myopically that we're the only intelligent species on the planet. When it is far from true. We need to rethink our view of other species. Treat them with respect instead of thinking of them as non-intelligent or as meat.

Julia Cabrera-Woscek

Nature (the documentary show) has a series of episodes dedicated to how birds think and how they design and use tools to gather and eat food.

Ricky T.
Ricky T3 years ago

What about the Japanese crows? Who, when you see the footage below, stand by the traffic lights when there's a green light, then at red they drop shelled nuts onto the road underneath, they then wait for the lights to turn green again, so the traffic would crush the shells, they then pick up the exposed nuts at the next red light: