Crows are no Birdbrains

Normally when we see a crow on the side of the road, we don’t think much about it. It’s just a plain old blackbird that scavenges for garbage wherever it can find some. However, we’ve discovered that they’re much more complicated than that, and that they’re actually one of the smartest animals on the planet.

How can crows possibly be clever? One reason why they could have developed higher intelligence is because they’re extremely social animals, just like humans. In urban cities like Vancouver, crows travel and sleep together in flocks. They all congregate in the same general area, but they separate themselves in family groups called “murders” (seriously!) which are made up of 2-15 birds. These families each have their own special dialect, so instead of just cawing to each other, they have been cited to have up to 250 different vocalizations, some of which only members of the murder can recognize.

Apart from having specialized languages, crows have also learned to be resourceful. A study at Oxford University, England has discovered that crows know how to create and use tools, not only from natural materials such as twigs, but also from unnatural materials. The researchers placed a piece of food in a tall cylinder, completely out of reach, and a long piece of wire next to it. The crow in the experiment took the piece of wire and repeatedly bent one end to make a hook, and fished the food out of the container!

Crows have also been observed to recognize traffic patterns in modern cities. At intersections, they recognize the changing of lights as well as how pedestrian crossings work. In fact, they have applied this knowledge to their own advantages. In Japan, crows have been seen to drop nuts onto pedestrian crossings when the cars are moving, so that they will crack when the cars run over them. After the cars have stopped for the red light, they will fly down onto the crossing and eat the contents of the nut.

The social behaviours and ability to be resourceful has made the crow and other members of the corvid family one of the cleverest organisms on Earth. They are incredibly intelligent, fascinating creatures, so next time you take a walk in the park and you see a crow, stop and watch for a while. You may be surprised!

For more about these facts, just search “smart crow” on Youtube.


6 responses to “Crows are no Birdbrains

  1. I’ve always been astounded by the intelligence of crows, so this doesn’t come as much of a surprise to me, although it was a great read. Good job!

    • Thanks so much Robert! Crows are my favourite animals to watch in the city; I find they’re highly misunderstood at times

      • I agree. People tend to have the outlook on them as just scavengers, but I’ve noticed their astute social skills and ability to adapt and improvise since a young age. I’ve seen them work together to forage for food, and even seen a murder that had a teamwork style warning and detection system when intruders (people) were coming so that they knew when to bail out of the garbage can, open vehicle, etc that they were foraging through. It makes me curious about how their brains work in comparison to ours.

  2. That bit of information completely blew my mind! People should seriously give them more credit. I will now be on the lookout for crows in the future 🙂

  3. This is such an interesting post, it’s definitely changed the way i see crows. Its nice to know that unlike most animals we haven’t ruined their lives by imposing our presence on them, but instead they’ve adapted to use us to their benefit.

  4. Good read! I used to ignore these birds, thinking they’re no different than those city bound pigeons or seagulls. Until one day… whilst driving on a back street, I saw a crow feeding on tarmac, at the same time another car was closing in from the opposite direction – instead of flying off in a panic, this bird just jumped a few steps onto the yellow line, allowing the two cars to pass through within 3 feet of each other, and hop right back onto the food.

    I became an instant fan of these birds and started observing their behaviour. Didn’t take long to see a lot of what you’ve mentioned, their streetwise behaviour, their use of a family dialect, etc… One thing that I also found funny is that they are very discrete with their “bathroom” breaks. You will see flocks of thousands hanging out at one spot in the evenings, but they somehow manage to keep that spot free from bird droppings, day after day.

    Fascinating bird…

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