Disabled Parrot With Half Beak Uses Pebbles To Preen Itself

by : Emily Brown on :
Disabled Parrot With Half Beak Uses Pebbles To Preen ItselfBastos et al/Scientific Reports

A disabled parrot has come up with an innovative way to preen himself after losing half of his beak in an accident thought to have involved a pest trap. 

Bruce the Kea was found with the upper half of his beak missing at Aurthur’s Pass in New Zealand in 2013, after which he was brought to the South Island wildlife hospital to be nursed back to health.


He now resides at the Willowbank Wildlife Reserve in Christchurch, where University of Auckland researchers observed him using pebbles to preen his feathers, in lieu of his missing beak.

In a study of Bruce, published in the journal Scientific Reports, the researchers explain that while there are reports regarding self-care tool use in pet parrots, this method of tool use is rare in the wild. Kea, however, are considered to be among the most intelligent birds, which may be why Bruce’s behaviour has yet to be recorded anywhere else.

In a bid to clean his colourful feathers, Bruce searches the ground for the perfect pebble to use to dislodge mites and dirt. His use of the tool is not too dissimilar to observations of Kea using tools such as sticks to disengage pest-traps, though this is the first evidence of a tool being used by one of the creatures for self-care, The Guardian reports.


Amalia Bastos, the lead author of the study, noted that Bruce’s behaviour is even more impressive considering he figured out how to do it by himself.


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The Kea’s first use of pebbles was noted by keepers in 2019, so researchers set out to determine whether the animal was acting intentionally by watching him over the course of nine days.

The study found that in more than 90% of instances where Bruce picked up a pebble, he then used it to preen. Furthermore, in 95% of instances where Bruce dropped a pebble, he retrieved the same pebble or replaced it with a new one in order to resume preening.


Bruce was found to select pebbles of a specific size for preening, and no other Kea in his environment has been reported as using pebbles for preening.

Bastos commented, ‘Because Bruce’s behaviour is consistent and repeated, it is regarded as intentional and innovative. It is Bruce’s own unique tool-use, and this is the first scientific observation of that.’

The researcher noted that the way Bruce has adapted to his disability shows ‘great flexibility’ in the intelligence of Kea.


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Emily Brown

Emily Brown first began delivering important news stories aged just 13, when she launched her career with a paper round. She graduated with a BA Hons in English Language in the Media from Lancaster University and went on to contribute to The Sunday Times Travel Magazine and Student Problems before becoming Senior Journalist at UNILAD, where she works on breaking news, trending stories and longer form features.

Topics: Animals, Birds, Christchurch, disability, New Zealand, Now


The Guardian
  1. The Guardian

    ‘He has adapted’: Bruce the disabled New Zealand parrot uses tools for preening