What happens when puffins get itchy? They reach for a stick, The Washington Post reports, as seen in the video above. Puffins are chunky seabirds that live in various coastal environments of the Atlantic and Pacific oceans. Scientists had seen them using sticks to scratch themselves before—likely because they had an itch, although it could also be a way to remove parasites—but had no video evidence. Now, in a paper published Monday in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, researchers present the first on-camera evidence of the behavior: a video taken by a camera trap of an itchy puffin making a burbling sound and scratching its chest with the sharp end of a twig. Scientists have seen several bird species using tools in the past—crows, for instance, use hooked sticks to catch grubs, and a few other species of wild birds cover themselves in ants for somewhat mysterious reasons—but this example of tool use by the stick-wielding puffin is a first for seabirds.
Click here for free access to our latest coronavirus/COVID-19 research, commentary, and news.
Support nonprofit science journalism
Science’s extensive COVID-19 coverage is free to all readers. To support our nonprofit science journalism, please make a tax-deductible gift today.