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Crow Brains

Hi gang,

This post is going to be a strange mix of two common themes used in this blog - namely "Weird Bird News" and "Amateur Ornithologist". Let's get started...

We've talked about bird intelligence before, (Birds and Souls, and Bird of the Week: The Crow), but maybe it's time to dig in a little bit. I want to focus on the brain of a crow specifically. (Crows are members of the Corvidae family, and have close relatives such as jays, ravens, and magpies.)

For starters, watch the next video carefully. The crow bends a wire into a hook in order to retrieve food... As far as we know, that makes the crow the first toolmaker (aside from humans) that has the intellectual "horsepower" to invent tools spontaneously in non-wilderness conditions.

(If the window above doesn't work in your browser, look at it directly on YouTube here: Crow making tool.)

And then there's...

So what in the name of Sam Hill is going on here? Well, there are a couple of considerations concerning possible crow intelligence. First, understand that sheer brain size does not equate to intelligence. It is in fact the ratio of the brain mass to the total body mass that offers some IQ indicator. (More accurately, that ratio is referred to the "Encephalization Quotient" or EQ.) Put another way, large animals need large brains to regulate temperature, breathing, control muscles, etc. Unfortunately, as animals get larger, they tend to have disproportionately smaller brains, or lower EQs. In general, the non-aquatic creatures with the best brain to body ration are the higher primates, with humans at the top. But following closely behind (and possibly even in front of the great apes depending on how one measures the EQ) are the corvids and some parrots... Hmmm... And what's the second consideration concerning crow intelligence? Take a look at the crow brain below.


(Original image from: Nova Science Now... Bird Brain).

Note the three large pallium areas in the front of the organ, (the hyperpallium, the mesopallium, and the nidopallium). Think of those puppies as the "crow equivalent" of the prefrontal cortex in humans... The job of "them guys" is to handle complex cognitive stuff, express individuality, and also to orchestrate social behavior. Now... Look at the picture below. Look at the forehead on the crow.


Kinda sizable ain't it? The fact is that not only do crows have a great EQ, they also have a great set of palliums. Say no more!

I'll leave you with this... Crows are bright... Studies indicate that chimpanzees, gorillas, and orangutans have clearly got winged competition. No doubt about it. But here's the mystery... Why did two radically different brain structures obtain roughly equal capabilities??? The article below is a fabulous read addressing this.

The Mentality of Crows: Convergent Evolution of Intelligence in Corvids and Apes by Nathan J. Emery1 and Nicola S. Clayton

See you by those crafty, social feeders...

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Great article! This just cements the belief I developed as a child (with absolutely no research at the time to back it up... it was just a hunch) that animals ARE intelligent beings, and should be respected as such.

Somewhere along the line, man's hubris decreed that only man has the power of reason, can feel emotion or know the joy of laughter, the loss of a loved one. In my 58 years of observing life on this planet, I have seen so many examples of proof positive indicating quite the opposite. And that opens an absolute Pandora's box of questions involving ethics of animal treatment etc. which would be appropriate, perhaps, for another forum. This amazing demonstration is but one of many examples to shore up my belief, thank you.

As for the intelligence LEVEL of animals, well that might be open to debate. My neighbor has an African Parrot who thinks he's pretty smart, but I can still beat him 2 games out of three at chess!

Hi Mr. and Mrs. CCA:
We're new to the Las Vegas, NV area and have finally dug out the old birdfeeder. Now that our hummingbirds have migrated, who could/should we expect to see and what type of birdseed should we stock up on? Also, any way to discourage those pesky Mourning (Morning?) Doves -- or are they pigeons? -- other than siccing the dog on them? (She's actually cornered a couple of them and come away with a few feathers. That doesn't seem to deter them...) Thanks in advance.

{CCA responds...

Keep a sharp eye out for our next post on the blog...}

Amazing video! I'll notice the crows more often now. Thanks!

{CCA replies... They're absolutely amazing...

And, thank you for your comment.}

Lol this reminds me of that quote "You can't teach an old dog new tricks."

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