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Bird-Brained? As If! 4 Amazing Facts About Crows And Ravens.

pied crow and common raven

You’ve probably spotted them scarfing down french fries behind the dumpster or cawing from power lines above you, but have you ever really thought about the crows you see around you? As the founder of Dark Wings Wildlife education program, I work with our crows on a daily basis – but you certainly don’t have to be in close proximity with these animals to appreciate just how intelligent crows and ravens are! 

Join me in exploring the fascinating world of these avian marvels and four of the most interesting displays of their cognitive abilities. Let’s uncover the truth about their uncanny intelligence and surprising problem-solving skills.

1. They’re Capable of Complex Problem Solving

Crows and ravens are not just your average birds. They possess cognitive abilities that rival those of many mammals and even human toddlers. A plethora of scientific studies have shown that they can solve complex problems that require planning, reasoning, learning, and the ability to use past experiences to address new challenges.

In one study, a researcher presented common ravens with a novel task. The researcher hung a piece of meat from a string that was too high for the birds to reach from the ground, but the string was long enough that the birds couldn’t reach it from the branch either. Without any demonstration of how to complete the task, the birds learned to pull the string from above, hold it with their foot, and continue pulling and holding each loop of the string until the food was reachable. 

At Dark Wings Wildlife, we tested this experiment with our African Pied Crow. You can see the results below:

2. They Cache Their Food, And Know Who’s Watching

It’s certainly not unusual for animals to hide their extra food. This behavior, known as “caching,” involves both hiding excess food and remembering where you have hidden it. But here’s where it gets really interesting: crows also understand that other birds or animals might steal their cached food, and they take measures to prevent that.

Crows and ravens pay close attention to who is watching them when they’re hiding their food. If they notice potential thieves, they’ll wait to hide their food until no one’s watching, or even pretend to cache the food in one place and then hide it in a different location. This shows an understanding of other animals’ perspectives – a level of cognition that was previously thought to be unique to humans.

3. They Not Only Use Tools, But Build Them Too

People often think of tool use at first mention of animal intelligence – and for good reason! While many animals use simple tools, crows and ravens take it a step further. They’re capable of adapting tools to fit their needs, bending wires into hooks to retrieve food from narrow holes, for instance.

More impressively, New Caledonian crows have been known to fashion compound tools from multiple pieces. Researchers presented the crows in one study with multiple pieces of tools, none of which were long enough on their own to reach a piece of obstructed food. The crows in the study combined the pieces to create a longer tool, successfully reaching the food.

This study showed the birds have a thorough understanding of how different objects can interact – a cognitive ability previously thought to be exclusive to humans and great apes.

4. They Understand Water Displacement

Understanding water displacement is an advanced cognitive concept that involves realizing that objects placed in water displace the existing liquid and raise the water level. It’s a concept that human children usually start to grasp around the age of two. And yes, you guessed it right – crows and ravens understand displacement too.

In one study, researchers place floating food into water-filled tubes. The water level was too low to reach the food, but the crows successfully dropped stones into the tube to raise the water level and bring the floating treat within reach. 

Crows and ravens are far from bird-brained. They’re intelligent, resourceful, and surprisingly sophisticated. So next time you see a crow or raven, take a moment to appreciate these incredible creatures and their astonishing cognitive abilities. 

african pied crow

You can find the sources of this story’s featured image here & here.

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