Have you ever noticed how clever some birds are – especially crows? They’ve long had a place in the myths and legends of many cultures as schemers or scavengers, wise or even godlike, bringers of light and bringers of death. Most often in Western cultures they are regarded as spooky or omenous, probably because we recognize intelligence when we see it and we know the crow is a scavenger. Its presence has therefore been seen culturally as a knowing sage that is awaiting nearby death.
In recent years, crow experts are learning more about just how intelligent these birds are. PBS Nature had an episode about this research not too long ago, Murder of Crows, presenting some remarkable research experiments.
You can view the entire episode online here.
From their presskit: “Crows are very social creatures, and love to chat with each other in at least two different dialects and as many of 250 distinct calls that form a sophisticated language. They mate for life, mourn their dead, and raise their young for up to fiveyears.”
That they can recognize individual human faces is amazing. And not just that – they appear able to tell other crows about “bad guys” and what they look like.
And then there’s the New Caledonian Crows, which live off the coast of New Zealand, and are one of only three non-human species that have demonstrated tool-making abilities. This species’ brain size, relative to body size, is comparable to that of primates.