Clever Crows Worthy of Admiration


Crows are so worthy of our respect. Let me tell you why:

The common crow is anything but ordinary. Take a few moments to watch these dark-winged beauties and you will be amazed.

There are approximately 45 species of crows — known worldwide by a variety of names — including ravens, jackjaws and rooks. They all belong to the genus Corvus.

Their plumage is mostly glossy black, but some have streaks of white.

These fascinating birds are loud, daring, gregarious and clever. And they are toolmakers

They nest way up in the treetops. Nests are built close to the trunk providing an excellent vista of the surrounding landscape. 

Mating crows will often remain together for years and some until parted by death. Most of the offspring will leave the nest after a couple months, never to return. Some, on the other hand, remain, assisting in co-operative breeding. I have seen this in the Santa Monica Mountains and Sequoia National Park, and my colleagues have recorded it elsewhere in America and in New Caledonia. 

There are almost 10,000 known species of birds on Earth. Most tend to rely on shyness and their coloration for camouflage as survival mechanisms — not true for any of the Corvus clan.

At times, they seem absolutely fearless, particularly when chasing eagles. On other occasions they will pick up and drop stones or sticks on predators or people they come in contact with.

The common crow will usually live for about seven years, although some have lived as long as 14 years in the wild.

If crows do not rely upon camouflage or stealth to make a living, how have they successful come to inhabit the globe?

In the late 1990s, New Zealand researchers working in the forest of New Caledonia discovered crows making tools. The birds whittle sticks to make hooks and insert these tools into tree bark to spear insects.

Toolmakers like chimpanzees, orangutans, elephants, dolphins, alligators, crocodiles, some ant species, some woodpecker finches from the Galapagos and humans are social animals and insects.

Crows are intelligent animals that are able to solve problems. For instance, as Aesop related in one of his fables, a very thirsty crow was perched on top of a water jug, but the water level was too low for its beak to reach. So the crow began dropping pebbles into the jug, forcing the water level to rise until it could drink the water. 

At Oxford University, a New Caledonian female crow clearly demonstrated a basic understanding of physics. In order to obtain her favorite food — a pig’s heart — she had to pick from several tools of different diameters to successful poke a stick through a small hole in a plug. Betty, the crow, always selected the thinnest stick in every trial.

In another experiment, having never seen wire bent, Betty quickly made a hook, placed it down a tube and retrieved the food. The speed at which Betty performed the task was remarkable. No other animal, including a chimpanzee, has displayed problem solving like this.

Crows are emotional animals. They react to hunger and invasion by vigorously vocalizing their feelings. They display happiness, anger and sadness.

Crows are considered songbirds and possess a deep repertoire of melodies. And, like humans, the more melodious the song the more soothing the effects. 

Crows rely upon their memories to stash food in many caches. They move their food sometimes two or three times and remember exactly where they placed it. 

According to one of my colleagues, crows remember and recognize individual faces. If a person does something dangerous or attempts to harm a crow, they will remember that person’s face for the rest of their lives.

For their size, crows have the largest brain of all birds except some parrots. Their brain-to-body ratio is equivalent to chimpanzees and amazingly not far off that of a human.

As temperatures on Earth continue to rise due to burning subsidized fossil fuels, few organisms with benefit except for the deadly mosquito.

Crows and humans share at least one other similarity: we are both highly susceptible to the mosquitoes carrying the potential fatal West Nile virus spreading across North America.

Earth Dr. Reese Halter is the author of “The Insatiable Bark Beetle” and a faculty member of The Patel College of Global Sustainability, University of South Florida.