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...