Humans With Feathers

American crow (photo by John Beatty)

By now scientists are quite convinced that crows are smart but the physical layout of crows' brains puzzled them for a long time.  Our seat of intelligence, the "smart" part of the human brain, is small in crows.  In fact it's small in all birds.  So where does all this braininess come from?  A different part of the brain.

Tübingen neurobiologists Lena Veit and Professor Andreas Nieder proved this by having trained crows run memory tests on crow-accessible computers.  The crows tapped the touchscreen with their beaks to select the answers.

The test was this:  Here's an image. Remember it.  Now here are two images: one matches what you just saw, the other does not.  In this battery of tests, pick the similar one.  In the next round, pick the different one.

The crows not only mastered these tests but according to Science Daily when Veit and Nieder "observed neuronal activity in the nidopallium caudolaterale, one group of nerve cells responded exclusively when the crows had to choose the same image while another group of cells always responded when they were operating on the "different image" rule. By observing this cell activity, the researchers were often able to predict which rule the crow was following even before it made its choice. ... This high level of concentration and mental flexibility is an effort even for humans."


Crows make and use tools. They remember faces. They remember a large number of feeding sites.  They plan their social behavior around what others are doing.

"I thought we were going to the dump this morning," says a crow to his buddy.  "We aren't?  OK.  Whatever.  I'll follow you."

Humans with feathers.

Read more here in Science Daily.


(photo by John Beatty)

4 thoughts on “Humans With Feathers

  1. Having spent a childhood with a constant supply of pet crows,hardly anything they
    do surprises me. Great memories, quick learners, teasers with a conscious sense of
    humor,there is no doubt that crows possess an intellect rarely matched in the animal

  2. My husband and I watched crows pick a bag of tortillas out of the dumpster behind our apartment. They seemed quite pleased. He hypothesized that our neighbors put trash out on Sundays for Monday pickup, and the crows know that Sunday is the best time to look for fresh goodies. Is that a little too much anthropomorphizing, or is that realistic?
    He also wondered aloud if the crows might be able to recognize packaging that contains tasty things, or if it was smell or the sight of the tortillas that led them to find the bag. What do you think?

    1. Caitlin, yes the crows know what day is garbage day. They certainly notice when the trash is put out! And they recognize food sources even if the food is hidden in a bag. My dad has seen crows steal snack chip bags from his golf cart. The crows know! Here’s more about their abilities, a summary of “A Murder Of Crows” by PBS NATURE

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