Crows' Tool Use Is Highly Impressive, a Little Spooky

Crows' Tool Use Is Highly Impressive, a Little Spooky

Crows have long been known to use tools in enclosed habitats, but scientists have now been observing advanced tool habits in the wild.

Crows: harbingers of doom; collectors of shiny things; effective tool users. If humanity were to be suddenly wiped from existence, crows are a good candidate for a clever species that could evolve to fill our niche. Not that crows would, of course. They're too smart for that.

In particular, New Caledonian crows are extremely smart birds. Among the corvid family, New Caledonians are the most frequent tool-users, and have now been found to make advanced tools in the wild, away from the carefully constructed obstacle courses of labs and artificial habitats.

Christian Rutz, from the University of St. Andrews in the UK, and his team attached tiny "crow-cams" to the tail feathers of ten crow subjects, then released them back into the wild of New Caledonia, a collection of islands east of Australia.

"Why is it that New Caledonian crows use tools but other corvids don't? I think the answer to that lies in looking at their time budgets and figuring out how important tool use is in their everyday lives - what kinds of prey sources they tackle with tools," says Rutz.

The little cameras download to an SD card, and fall off after about a week of wear. At first, the recovered footage was disappointing and confusing. "Out of total observation time, only about 3% was spent making or using tools." says Rutz, and fewer than half the subjects picked up a tool at all.

Mostly, the crows used their beaks for foraging, ripping the bark off of trees to find grubs. Inexplicably, the crows sometimes used sticks to remove the bark, despite their beaks being much better suited to the task.

Two moments in the footage, though, were cause for celebration for the team. They observed crows actually building a proper tool to suit their needs: something like a hook shape, made by snapping off one branch from a forked twig, but leaving a part of the main stem attached at the end. This tool is used to scoop out insects living too deep in holes for the crows to normally reach.

The behavior has been observed in a lab setting, but never recorded in the wild. "When we got that footage it was a proper high-five moment in the field camp," says an excited Rutz.

What I am understanding from this is that, should crows decide to take us out, they could. We just need to keep paying them tribute with shiny metallic objects, and they'll leave us in peace.

Any readers out there have any awesome "eerily clever crow" stories?

Source: BBC


One day, all the crows of the Earth will team up with the spiders and Mimic Octopuses, and together they'll overthrow humanity and take over the planet.

Trust me, it WILL happen.

Only mynah birds here, which are not related to crows, but share their terrifying ability to recognize faces, hold extremely loud and interesting conversations with each other, and will totally fight a cat if they see one nearby.

One day, all the crows of the Earth will team up with the spiders and Mimic Octopuses, and together they'll overthrow humanity and take over the planet.

Trust me, it WILL happen.

But which of the three will be the first to inevitably betray the others to emerge dominant over all creatures?

If we can figure that out we may be able to use it against them and avert our own annihilation. That it why it is so important that heroes such as these scientists conduct their research into the behavior and intelligence of our most likely foes.

It's not just crows, although they are the most intelligent.
ALL BIRDS are particularly intelligent.
The average pigeon.... yes, that little tiny-headed creature that walks wobbling their neck and that always looks dumbfounded... the average pigeon is more intelligent than any dog or cat.

I chalk it up to birds being evolved dinosaurs, so their brains got more advanced than those of mammals?

All I know is that I could list you countless examples of how amazingly smart birds are.

Some of those examples might be....

1) There is a pigeon that I've been feeding since he was quite young. When I saw him, the poor guy had a limp, so I started feeding him bread crumbs. Eventually the limp recovered.... but whenever he saw me, that pigeon kept pretending to be limp, because he somehow figured out that might be the reason why I was feeding him. Eventually he discovered that I figured out he wasn't limp anymore, and stopped faking.

2) Crows play with snow, and can also make snowballs. No kidding.

3) My cockatiel saw me having breakfast with milk and biscuits. He stared at me for one minute. Then he walked by, grabbed a cookie, dipped it in the milk, and ate it. Another day, my cockatiel saw me playing with a game controller. He stared at me for a while, then he tried to press the buttons like I did.

4) I regularly feed a clan of sparrows. They tap on the window if they see me sitting in the room but not paying attention to them. They also bring me things like feathers, leaves, twigs, and... dried up skeletons of other birds, because SPARROWS ARE MODERN DAY VELOCIRAPTORS.

5) Bird recognize people, and go as far as to recognize human facial expressions. They can tell if you're angry or smiling. And I'm talking about wild birds, not domesticated ones.

6) Pigeons can take the train. They regularly do it, in fact. They learnt to use trains all by themselves.

7) Many birds can go fishing using a bait. They grab a little piece of bread or just a feather, drop it in the water, and wait for a fish to get close to eat it. Birds can go fishing like us humans do.


Indeed birds are highly intelligent creatures. There's a flock of ducks that live in the lake behind my house. They know my wife and I, who have raised a few generations now of ducklings, and they are quite well acclimated to our presence. There's even been a few who have flown off for months at a time only to return and live out their existence near us. They're not quite domesticated nor am I interested in trying, preferring to keep them wild but as far as they seem to be concerned with us, we're their humans who help raise and feed their offspring and are generally safe.
We have a rabbit that lives in a cage out back and the ducks seem to also like his presence as they spend much of their daytime near his cage and even sleeping underneath on the excess hay that falls. They also are acquainted with the outdoor cat that we "own" though I detest to use that word since I consider "pets" more family than anything. The cat does not bother the ducks or their young and has even defended them from other animals in the area.
We also get other birds that tend to live in our back yard more than any other yard on the lake, makes me wonder if the ducks somehow communicate with the other birds letting them know our yard is safe and that we feed any and all who frequent it. I spend time out there during the day just hanging out with the ducks and other birds and sometimes even emulate their body language just to see if I can reason out their communication styles... I think I have a tentative grasp on their "language" because they seem to respond in kind to various gestures. I could also be a bit on the insane side, depending on one's point of view I guess.

Imperioratorex Caprae:

I wish I had ducks where I live!!

You and your wife look like an awesome duo. Nothing better than to respect animals and help them while letting them keep their freedom.

Also, yes, I do believe birds communicate information to each other in some way. The sparrows started coming to my balcony after my formerly limp pigeon pretty much "informed" them it was a good place. And there is one other particular pigeon who for some reason is always in a duo with a male sparrow.
One day I saw this funny scene of a blackbird hanging out on my balcony next to a sparrow. They were like sitting together and staring at the street, like two old retired men passing time.


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