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Tool Crafting in New Caledonian Crows

  • Full or part time
  • Application Deadline
    Sunday, December 01, 2019
  • Competition Funded PhD Project (Students Worldwide)
    Competition Funded PhD Project (Students Worldwide)

Project Description

New Caledonian crows are renowned for their ability to manufacture complex foraging tools from plant materials. For example, using an elaborate sequence of actions, they craft hooked stick tools from branching vegetation, and using a completely different technique, they cut tapered leaf tools from the barbed edges of screw-pine leaves. Professor Christian Rutz’s research group has been studying the behavioural ecology of New Caledonian crows since 2005, focussing on a suite of seven established study sites, including some with marked crow populations. Building on some of the group’s recent advances, this PhD project will provide a detailed investigation of the tool-manufacture behaviour of wild crows. There is considerable flexibility with regards to specific study objectives, but the successful candidate is likely to conduct both field observations and aviary-based experiments with temporarily-captive subjects, with excellent scope for collaboration with other group members and external project partners. This fully-funded PhD project offers exciting opportunities for a highly motivated student to join a dynamic research group, to conduct topical research on the behavioural ecology of one of the most accomplished non-human tool users, and to receive training in state-of-the-art field-ornithological research methodologies.

The Centre for Biological Diversity (CBD) at the University of St Andrews provides a highly interactive and stimulating environment for doctoral students, with particular strengths in animal behaviour and evolution. The successful candidate would benefit from frequent interactions with postgraduates, postdocs and PIs, including lab chats, seminars, and discussion groups.

For further details on the project, and any informal inquiries, please contact Professor Christian Rutz (). Before you get in touch, please read the references listed below, to get a good understanding of the group’s current research activities.

Funding Notes

Eligibility requirements: Upper second-class degree in Biology or a related area.
Funding: Fees and stipend is provided for 3.5 years.

+ excellent academic track record
+ excellent analytical, writing and communication skills
+ demonstrable skill and enthusiasm for behavioural research and fieldwork
+ high degree of self-motivation and independence
+ ability and willingness to live and work overseas, for extended periods of time and sometimes under challenging field conditions
+ clean driving licence
+ prior research experience is an advantage


Hunt GR (1996) Manufacture and use of hook-tools by New Caledonian crows. Nature 379, 249–251.
Hunt GR, and Gray RD (2003) Diversification and cumulative evolution in New Caledonian crow tool manufacture. Proc. R. Soc. B 270, 867–874.
Hunt GR, and Gray RD (2004) The crafting of hook tools by wild New Caledonian crows. Proc. R. Soc. B (Suppl. 3) 271, S88–S90.
Hunt GR, and Gray RD (2004) Direct observations of pandanus-tool manufacture and use by a New Caledonian crow (Corvus moneduloides). Anim. Cogn. 7, 114–120.
Kenward B, Weir AAS, Rutz C, and Kacelnik A (2005) Tool manufacture by naïve juvenile crows. Nature 433, 121.
Klump BC, Cantat M, and Rutz C (2019) Raw-material selectivity in hook-tool-crafting New Caledonian crows. Biol. Lett. 15, 20180836.
Klump BC, Sugasawa S, St Clair JJH, and Rutz C (2015) Hook tool manufacture in New Caledonian crows: behavioural variation and the influence of raw materials. BMC Biol. 13, 97.
Rutz C (2018) Studying corvids in lab and field. In: Field and Laboratory Methods in Animal Cognition: A Comparative Guide. Bueno-Guerra N, and Amici F (eds.). Cambridge University Press, Cambridge, pp. 127–129.
Rutz C, Hunt GR, and St Clair JJH (2018) Corvid technologies: how do New Caledonian crows get their tool designs? Curr. Biol. 28, R1109–R1111.
Rutz C, and St Clair JJH (2012) The evolutionary origins and ecological context of tool use in New Caledonian crows. Behav. Processes 89, 153–165.
Rutz C, Sugasawa S, van der Wal JEM, Klump BC, St Clair JJH. 2016 Tool bending in New Caledonian crows. R. Soc. Open Sci. 3, 160439.
St Clair JJH, Klump BC, Sugasawa S, Higgott CG, Colegrave N, and Rutz C (2018) Hook innovation boosts foraging efficiency in tool-using crows. Nature Ecol. Evol. 2, 441–444.
St Clair JJH, Klump BC, van der Wal JEM, Sugasawa S, and Rutz C (2016) Strong between-site variation in New Caledonian crows’ use of hook-tool-making materials. Biol. J. Linn. Soc. 118, 226–232.
St Clair JJH, Rutz C (2013) New Caledonian crows attend to multiple functional properties of complex tools. Phil. Trans. R. Soc. B 368, 20120415.
Sugasawa S, Klump BC, St Clair JJH, and Rutz C (2017) Causes and consequences of tool shape variation in New Caledonian crows. Curr. Biol. 27, 3885–3890.

How good is research at University of St Andrews in Biological Sciences?

FTE Category A staff submitted: 50.45

Research output data provided by the Research Excellence Framework (REF)

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