Cockatoos learning carpentry skills sounds like a parrot sketch worthy of Monty Python.

Yet this is not an example of surreal humour. Scientists have observed the brainy birds teaching each other how to make and use wooden tools to obtain food.

It all started with a captive Goffin's cockatoo named Figaro, who surprised researchers in Austria by spontaneously fashioning stick tools from aviary beam splinters to rake up nuts.

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He then became the role model for other members of his species, an Indonesian parrot not known to employ tools in the wild.

In a series of experiments, the birds watched Figaro perform and copied him by manipulating ready-made sticks to obtain food.

Remarkably, rather than simply imitating Figaro - parrot-fashion - they developed their own technique adapted to work best in the test situation.

Two of the cockatoos were even able to carve their own tools out of a wooden block. One hit on the idea himself while the other succeeded after first watching a carpentry demonstration from Figaro.