Tool use was once thought to be one of the defining features of humans, but examples of it were eventually observed in primates and other mammals. But the biggest surprise came when birds were observed using tools in the wild. After all, birds are the only surviving dinosaurs, and mammals and dinosaurs hadn't shared a common ancestor for hundreds of millions of years. In the wild, tool use has been limited to the corvids (crows and jays), which show a variety of other complex behaviors—they'll remember your face and recognize the passing of their dead.
Parrots, in contrast, have mostly been noted for their linguistic skills, and there has only been very limited evidence that they use anything resembling a tool in the wild (primarily, they seem to use external objects to position nuts while feeding). But a captive cockatoo has now been observed using multiple steps to process a tool, behavior that appears to be completely spontaneous. And it has never been seen in this species in the wild.
The bird in question is Figaro, a male Goffin’s cockatoo. The species is native to a group of islands in Indonesia, but Figaro has been living outside of Vienna, where he's watched over by members of the local university's Department of Cognitive Biology. Contrary to what you might expect, Figaro wasn't undergoing any sort of elaborate testing routine when his toolmaking abilities emerged. Instead, he was playing with a stone. And, apparently, Figaro was a bit clumsy with his toy, as he dropped it behind a metal divider.
After failing to retrieve it with his claw, however, the researchers were surprised to see Figaro fly off, retrieve a piece of bamboo, and use that to try to push the stone back where he could access it. The attempt failed, but the researchers were intrigued enough that they gave the cockatoo a bit of added incentive by placing a nut on the other side of the metal screen.
Figaro initially picked up a stick from the enclosure's floor, but this proved to be too short to reach the food. So, he actually splintered off a piece of the enclosure's wooden base, and successfully used that to pull the nut towards the wire until he could use his beak to grab it.
Via Dr. Stefan Gruenwald