Bird brain envy

Crows, magpies are smarter than we think

Christie Greene
Posted 11/30/21

The family of corvids, which includes ravens, crows and magpies, redefines the meaning of “birdbrain.”

This item is available in full to subscribers.

Please log in to continue

Username
Password
Log in

Don't have an ID?


Print subscribers

If you're a print subscriber, but do not yet have an online account, click here to create one.

Non-subscribers

Click here to see your options for becoming a subscriber.

If you made a voluntary contribution in 2021-2022, but do not yet have an online account, click here to create one at no additional charge. VIP Digital Access includes access to all websites and online content.


Our print publications are advertiser supported. For those wishing to access our content online, we have implemented a small charge so we may continue to provide our valued readers and community with unique, high quality local content. Thank you for supporting your local newspaper.

Bird brain envy

Crows, magpies are smarter than we think

Posted

The family of corvids, which includes ravens, crows and magpies, redefines the meaning of “birdbrain.”

“A crow’s brain size in relation to body mass is equal to that of great apes and dolphins, and only slightly lower than humans,” according to The Earthfire Institute. “And that it is not just their brain size, but cognitive abilities as well, that are on par with those of the great apes.”

Corvids have been recorded creating and using tools, solving complex problems, exhibiting remarkable memory, collaborating, identifying threats and recognizing generosity.

In Japan, a murder of crows repeatedly cracked open walnuts by placing them on the road at an intersection with a crossing sign. When the walk emblem appeared, the birds would join the pedestrians as they crossed the road and pick up the meat from the newly cracked nuts. In the event the nut was not cracked, the crow would move it to a more advantageous location.

Crows notoriously badger people who have threatened any members of their murder. In one five-year study, researchers wanted to know how crows identify their human targets. The scientists began wearing one of several masks as they trapped and banded crows in full view of other birds in the murder.

The masks included a caveman, Dick Cheney and several custom-made realistic faces. The birds soon made the connection between the mask and the bird trapper, mobbing anyone wearing that mask. Surprisingly, the crows continued to scold researchers who wore the masks up to five years later.

The birds can seemingly show gratitude as well, such as the case with a young girl in Seattle who began leaving bits of food near the family’s birdbath for neighborhood crows. Soon, the crows were returning the favor by bringing her gifts, including a pearl colored heart.

In one experiment, crows were shown a stick onto which was tied a long string holding a bit of meat. One after the other, the crows hopped onto the stick and pulled the string up, held it with their feet, repeating the action until they could reach the meat. Every crow demonstrated this problem-solving behavior without witnessing the other birds.

The Clark’s nutcracker, a North American species of crow, gathers over 30,000 pine nuts during the month of November and buries them over an area of 20 square miles. During the period of a year, the bird will locate 90% of the caches, even when under snow.

If being bird-brained means having an astonishing memory, outsmarting your competition, and easily solving problems, we should all have bird-brain envy.

Comments

Our Papers

Ad blocker detected

We have noticed you are using an ad blocking plugin in your browser.

The revenue we receive from our advertisers helps make this site possible. We request you whitelist our site.