Friday, August 12, 2011

Are Crows the Smartest Birds in the World?

When you consider the true brainiacs of the animal kingdom it’s usually dolphins, chimpanzees and great apes that come to mind; with the exception of parrots, birds aren’t likely to make most people’s lists. However, research over the past decade is beginning to indicate that crows may not only be the smartest birds, but possibly more intelligent than even chimpanzees.

American crow - Photo by Walter Siegmund
The term “crow” is used to refer to any bird of the 40 or so members of the Corvus genus. Some members of the genus may also be called ravens or jackdaws. Crows can be found throughout most of the world, even introducing themselves to areas where they are not native. Most members of the genus are fairly large birds that are black in color.

Certain species of crows have shown remarkable intelligence not seen elsewhere in birds. New Caledonian crows are known for their tool making. In one test a crow was observed bending a piece of straight wire into a hook to lift a bucket of food from a vertical pipe; it had never been exposed to wire before. These crows also make tools out of grass and sticks to probe for insects in trees, and have even been seen dropping nuts on to busy streets so the heavy cars would crack them. Even more amazing, the crows would then fly down to intersections and only cross into the street with pedestrians to retrieve the nuts safely.

Crows also exhibit complex social behaviors, particularly seen in the common raven. Young ravens tend to make a large fuss when feeding on a carcass in order to attract other juveniles so they can feed in the safety of a group. Adults on the other hand stay whisper quiet when feeding so as not to attract uninvited guests. Like parrots, ravens are capable of mimicking almost any sound they hear, including human speech. They use this ability both to mock and confuse other animals, even mimicking the call of a coyote or wolf to attract them to a carcass that is too thick for the raven to open itself.

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