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Bruce the Kea is a disabled parrot who figured out how to use tools for his beauty routine.

Patrick Wood

Not to be dramatic, but I’d die for Bruce den Kea. Bruce is a disabled parrot that lives in the Willowbank Wildlife Reserve in Christchurch, New Zealand. He’s missing the top of his beak, but that doesn’t stop him from looking fabulous. He figured out how to do without cleaning.

Bruce’s self-care routine consists of finding a perfect pebble, rolling it around with his tongue, and then holding it against his lower beak while he cleans his feathers. A team of researchers published a study of Bruce’s abilities in Scientific Reports last week.

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“Although there have been anecdotal reports of the use of self-grooming tools in pet parrots, this form of tool use is rare in the wild and this is the first time it has been seen on a kea,” the University of Auckland said in one Statement on Friday. “It is also the first scientific observation that a parrot uses a pebble for self-care.”

The researchers followed Bruce’s gritty behavior for nine days and found that 90% of the time, he picked up a pebble to clean it. If he dropped it, he would pick it up or find a replacement to keep working on his feathers. He was also consistent with the size of his pebbles. All of these observations indicate deliberate use of tools.

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Bruce was rescued from the wild in 2013. Researchers suspect that his injury could be due to a collision with a pest trap. He lives in an aviary with other kea. Bruce gets soft food that is easy to handle without a full beak, but he’s also figured out how to press harder foods against other objects in order to eat.

The university’s Animal Minds Lab posted a video showing Bruce’s work with pebbles and tougher foods.

None of Bruce’s kea friends in the aviary have shown behavior that cleans pebbles, which suggests that it was behavior he made up himself.

Lead author Amalia Bastos said, “Kea does not regularly demonstrate the use of tools in the wild. So when an individual uses innovative tools in response to his or her disability, there is great flexibility in their intelligence.” Bruce isn’t just a pretty bird; he’s a clever, resourceful bird.

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