Monday, September 15, 2008

Those Clever Crows

An article published in National Geographic about a study done by Nathan Emery and Nicola Clayton reveals that crows and some other birds from the corvid family may be as intelligent as primates. Although they hold a different brain structure than primates, they are able to use similar cognitive skills to solve problems. It is hard to visualize, but some of these skills include using their imagination and the ability to anticipate the future. It is also thought they may be able to use memory to help them in certain situations. Scientists also noted that brain size in crows and other corvids is comparable to that in primates, relative to their body size.

Because crows are very social, and live in large groups, scientists say that the use for these skills comes out of social necessity. They also compare this kind of social interaction to dolphins, chimps and humans.

As an example of the crow’s intelligence-
First of all, crows have figured out how to crack nuts by dropping them from a high distance onto the pavement. Because this some times takes quite a while, they figured out that they can drop the nuts from the sky into speeding traffic, allowing the passing cars to crack the nuts. The cleverness doesn’t stop there. They have also learned that by dropping them in a pedestrian crosswalk, the passing cars can still crack the nuts, but there is also a safe manner for the crow to retrieve the goods. When the traffic light changes and the crosswalk light comes on, the crow swoops down and gets the cracked nut. Now that’s a clever crow!

See this video from YouTube of crows using the traffic light.

Crows have learned to use tools. They have been known to make hooks from twigs and branches to retrieve insects from their holes. However, this has also been documented inside a laboratory where a crow used a metal wire to retrieve food.

See this video from YouTube of a crow using tools.

There has been some other research from Emery and Clayton that may reveal that the tool making in crows may differ among cultures. For more reading on this subject, please see:

Cultural Tool Use in Crows

See the entire article here:

Posted by: Michele Copeland (1)


At 11:37 PM, Blogger PWH said...

This comment has been removed by the author.

At 11:38 PM, Blogger PWH said...

I noticed that you did say that you got this from National Geographic but did you cite the article?? Maybe I missed it.

Jennifer Smith (1)

At 7:02 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

I did, but I linked it to their names. I will change that to link National Geographic.


At 9:54 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Make sure to give your full name in the comments.

Pete Houlihan

At 8:49 PM, Blogger bspozio said...

I enjoyed the video you posted of the crow utilizing traffic to open it's food. I remember seeing that same clip on a nature show when I was young, but it was nice to see it again (I forgot how smart crows are). The link between crows and primates was also interesting. I believe chimpanzees use sticks to fish out termites, but I didn't know any other animal also used tools in that same manner. Is it right to assume that primates also use their imagination to anticipate the future?

-Benjamin Spozio

At 6:52 PM, Blogger PWH said...

I find this post extremely interesting because I had no idea crows were so incredibly smart. I observed tool making in animals last year in my evolution course. My professor had a picture of a chimp using a stick to retrieve an insect just like the picture you used in your post.

Chantal Gomes

At 8:44 PM, Blogger PWH said...

I watched the posted videos about 100 times. I had no idea they did this. I knew primates were capable of using tools and I knew some other mammals could as well but I would have never thought of birds. It makes me wonder whether crows have an enlarged part of their brain that correlates to using tools. I also wonder if humans have a section in their brain specifically designated for tool usage and if they did does that mean crows and humans are more closely related than we once thought?

Patrick Salome

At 1:35 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

I had no idea that crows were so smart. You mentioned that the intelligence may be due to social necessity. Is the fact that the crows live in social groups very important? Could experience and intelligence be shared among group members? And just as we mentioned in class, wouldn't it be inconvenient for birds that fly all the time to be dragging a large brain (relative to their size) with them?

Hanbing Guo

At 9:25 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

This article was very fascinating especially because I never knew or heard of crows having such capabilities. Truly I was amused by the video where the crows used traffic lights. The way the crows knew exactly when to drop the nuts, and when to go down to the street to get/eat it. Now that I think about it, I've always seen crows in the middle of the streets (in Bangladesh) and I used to think that they were picking up some garbage, but after reading this article I know that there is so much more to them than what I thought or knew. I liked the posted videos.

Posted by Tazneena Ishaque

At 11:06 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

This was an Awesome article for me to read! I enjoyed it very much, so thanks for posting it. I knew that crows and ravens were smart and used tools, but I didn't know it was due to social behavior or, on a maybe unrelated issue, that they could also mimic. Does mimicry also have to do with social interactions? I didn't know any examples of blue jays using tools before this read either. Do blue jays exhibit other behaviors similar to their cousins; the crow and raven?

Ada Marie Flores

At 11:17 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

This was a very interesting article! I also did hear about primates using 2 ways of getting termites out of holes and trees using sticks. This also reminds me of some other birds. I went on a whale watch once and noticed a cool behavior in birds maybe like this. Maybe it could be the same? The whale would come down with its tail smashing the water and killing many fish on the way down. Then it would blow bubbles making the dead fish rise. The birds saw the bubbles and immediately flew over to the bubbles and once the fish rose they grabbed them. Maybe its different, but it reminded me of this.

-Alyson Paige

At 4:59 PM, Blogger PWH said...

This comment has been removed by the author.

At 5:00 PM, Blogger PWH said...

This article is very interesting. I could not even believe what I was reading and watching it. How can they learn those? I wish you could add more explanation about their social behavior. Then, the article will be more interesting to anyone. Who thought crows could be possibly this much smart. By the way, I really enjoyed the Youtube viedo. It was a brilliant idea.

So Jin Lee


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