I suppose depending on what area you live in, crows may or may not be something you see very often. Here in Texas we have what I call Crows, but I think they’re actually called Grackles. Either way, they seem to look the same to me, maybe they’re a little different sized.
But getting back to crows, they are by all accounts pretty smart birds, they’ve been known to make tools, play practical jokes on one another and seem to possess a language that carries a unique dialect specific to their species. Considering these few points, you can see how they act and think quite a bit like humans.
Smart Black Birds
One famous author of a book on crows, Candace Savage, has explored many of the traits that these birds possess. Many of which show shocking similarities between them and humans. Such as a few of the things we discussed earlier, tool making and some pretty remarkable social skills.
There was a five year period dedicated to crow research focusing in the Seattle, Washington area that showed some amazing findings. These smart black birds are able to retain memory of a risky encounter with a bad or dangerous human. Not only can they remember that frightening encounter, but they have the ability to pass that information down to their offspring, so that they too can have the knowledge required to stay clear of that danger.
In fact it was discovered that the crows form communities in mob like fashion that gives them a “power in numbers” advantage over such dangers. This also allows crows that may be a bit naive to better protect themselves by learning from the others.
Of course we all know that humans and birds are totally different species and share basically zero similarities as far as looks and worldly function goes. But none the less, the behaviors are surprisingly similar on a social level.
Crows Using Tools
A certain zoologist from Oxford University in England, Alex Kacelnick, did a massive study on tools used by the amazing birds. In one specific study, a New Caledonian crow bent a straight piece of wire to fashion a hook out of it. This hook was then used by the bird to grapple a bucket of food from a tube.
I don’t know about you, but I find that really amazing, there’s been numerous studies done on chimps that did not show problems being solved as quickly as this bird did it. Because of these types of awesome problem solving skills, crows have become known as “tool makers”.
But it was also noted that the New Caledonian crows are the most “tool savvy” out of 45 different crow species. Of course most of the tools used by these crows are a normal hand me down design, but they’ve also been known to create new tools when the need arose.
According to research on crows, they possess three major learning elements. First and foremost, the skills they inherit from the family line, then there’s instances where they learn due to their individual experience with certain situations. And last but not least, they also learn through social aspects, basically they teach each other. Now if these elements don’t sound like human behavior, then I don’t know what does.
Crows are Tricksters
Of course any living animal with advanced problem solving skills like those possessed by crows will also use their knowledge in a mischievous manner from time to time. Studies have shown that crows have the ability to alter the outcome of any social interaction they may have. Just like humans may manipulate one another while focusing on an ulterior motive.
One example of this would be Bernd Heinrich’s research showing how the feeding behaviors differ between juvenile and adult crows. It showed that the juveniles will cause a scene in order to attract other juveniles to the food source, this is a “power in numbers” move. They do this to help increase safety from any competition that may arrive.
But the adults on the other hand will do just the opposite. They actually arrive at the scene in pairs and try to maintain composure while feeding. This is to ensure they don’t draw any unwanted attention or competition to the food source.
There was one specific raven named Hugin that used an amazingly sneaky tactic. Hugin would trick another raven named Mugin into searching for food in empty containers while Hugin snuck off to feed on the full containers. This trick of keeping the competition busy while raiding the food source shows some pretty advanced thoughts in my opinion.
This type of behavior is nothing short of tactical and methodical deception, humans would call this type of behavior as lying or being deceptive, it’s basically the same behavior only a different species. According to Candace Savage, she states that there is a club of sociable liars that once only included humans and our primitive relatives, this club now includes crows.
Of course we realize that humans and crows have absolutely nothing in common as far as looks and possibly emotions are concerned. But this extensive research on crows has for certain produced a lot to think about where the mind of a crow is concerned. Their use of tools as well as their deceptive and tricky behavior brings them just a little closer to being human. These amazing birds are extremely social driven and may be seen living in family groups of up to 15 members, but 4 family members is a more common scenario.
What do you think about these smart tricksters?