Puffin Uses Stick Tool To Scratch An Itch In Viral Video
The Internet was delighted when it discovered footage of a puffin scratching itself with a stick
We’ve all had that scratch we couldn’t quite itch. Some resourceful puffins came up with the answer to this universal problem! In a now viral video, a puffin is shown on camera scratching its back with a stick. The Internet blew up, because who doesn’t love funny animal videos? Scientists, however, were in awe for a different and important reason.
But the video turned out to be more than animal antics and led to a scientific breakthrough
Caught on camera by scientist Annette L. Fayet, the bird was nesting on Grimsey Island in Iceland
University of Oxford scientist Annette L. Fayet studies the migration and feeding habits of puffins. In July 2018 she was studying a group of puffins at Grimsey Island in Iceland. According to the Washington Post, she set up cameras all around the island and recorded “loads and loads of puffin behavior.”
Grimsey Island is one of Iceland’s most popular places for puffin watching
The northernmost point in Iceland, Grímsey is located right inside the Arctic Circle. Its seabird population vastly outnumbers humans, with 1 million seabirds and 100 humans. The most popular inhabitants are the puffins, with puffin tours running throughout the summer.
In the video the bird sees a stick, picks it up with its beak, then scratches its chest with the pointy end
What makes the footage remarkable to scientists is that the puffin uses the stick as a tool
Scientists say that fewer than 1 percent of animal species use tools
The bird’s behavior “fits all current definitions” of tool use, University of Oxford zoologist Alex Kacelnik told the Washington Post. Kacelnik has studied toolmaking crows but was not a member of the puffin research team. Unlike the puffin, crows use sticks to catch grub, making the video even more peculiar.
While this is the first time such a thing had been recorded on video, Fayet said she had noted the same behavior five years earlier
The first sighting was on a remote island in Wales about a thousand miles from Grimsey. Fayet spotted an Atlantic puffin floating at sea with a stick between its beak.
The bird began to use the stick to scratch its back. Fayet didn’t catch any photo evidence of the bird. “It was just one observation, and I was busy doing something else,” she told the Washington Post. While unusual, Fayet said she “kind of forgot about it.”
Fayet’s video was sent to her colleague and resulted in a study published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences
Fayet sent her footage to colleague Dora Biro, an animal behavior expert at the University of Oxford. Biro was immediately excited, as “this was a puffin, this was a seabird — and tool use had never been reported in seabirds before.” The pair joined forces with their colleague, biologist Erpur Snaer Hansen, to publish a study on puffin tool use.
Back-scratching is a particularly rare form of tool use called “body care.”
According to Biro, the only other type of body care performed by wild birds is “anting,” where birds cover their bodies with insects. Biologists believe bug juices might act as chemical defenses against bird fungi or parasites.
Scientists are still unsure as to the exact reason behind the puffin behavior
But then again who doesn’t like a good scratch now and then?
Watch the full video here!
Iceland is the puffin watching capital of the world. Bird watchers and scientists from all over the world come to Iceland to see this interesting species for themselves. Thanks to their incredibly cute and funny appearance, puffin watching has become one of the top favorite summer activities for visitors in Iceland! Learn more about the puffins in Iceland: when to see and how to find them.
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