Are crows smarter than us hoo-mahns? I thought 'birdbrain' meant dumb

From an articletoday in the NYT about Crows nesting for the winter in an Indiana town

Ok, that is shocking, since the crows seem to have a greater grasp on the world than many humans.

So how smart are these things? Do they know more about ourselves than we do? I thought birds were dumb and ‘birdbrain’ was an insult.

National Geographic article from 2006 on crows.

Lots more here.
FWIW, growing up the next door neighbor was into all things wild. For several years he raised wild crows. They took to liking us as well. Imagine having a super-intelligent dog with wings around you when you were outside. And that’s just a start.

My understanding is that calling someone a “birdbrain” is suggesting that he has a brain the size of a bird’s. While a brain of that size is adequate for a bird, it’s woefully inadequate for a human.

Birds, and many other animals, can do some things which are rather remarkable, including some of the things that people do. However, they can’t do the other 99+% of things that humans do, so keep that in mind for perspective.

African grey parrots can have the intelligence of a 5-year-old human. The one in this video for instance can identify objects by their shape, color and texture, and it actually knows how to associate words with meanings - if it senses its owner is annoyed, it says “sorry”. When it wants to go back in its cage, it says “wanna go back”. One African Grey had a vocabulary of 950 words which it knew how to weave together creatively. It’s pretty freaky to watch actually.

Unless they teach it to say, “Help! They turned me into a parrot!” then it is all a waste of time. :smiley:

Crows exhibit some remarkable brain power. In particular they can problem solve on the fly (so to speak) as seen in this video:

I read an article (sorry I cannot find it now) where some crows spotted a rabbit but, being unable to kill the rabbit on their own, antagonized a hawk they knew to be in the area. The hawk gave chase and the crow flew towards the rabbit. When the hawk saw the rabbit it decided dinner was offering itself and swooped down to kill the rabbit. The crows did more though, another crow was apparently on the ground near the rabbit making itself known to distract the rabbit (so the rabbit would not see the hawk coming). Once the hawk killed the rabbit the crows mobbed the hawk and ran it off leaving the crows with a rabbit dinner.

Crows in Japan like a particular nut but the nut is too tough to crack. So the crows stand on street lights and drop the nuts into traffic below which the cars break. Then the crows swoop down and get the good parts (as can be seen here).

In another case researchers wore masks while raiding nearby crows nests for research. This did not please the crows at all. Thing is they remembered those faces and would react for years afterwards when they saw those faces. More, other crows learned who the “bad” people were and joined in.

In my own experience I spotted an injured crow on the ground and went to see what I could do. Its friends were in the tree above and started cawing to distract me. When that didn’t work they started breaking off twigs from the tree and dropped them on my head.

There’s a video of a crow bending a piece of wire to create a hook which it then uses to remove a treat from a small jar shaped object.


Crows will also drop nuts in the middle of the road and then when a passing car crushes the nut they fly out to retrieve the meat.

Another bird (not a crow) when it realized it could not get to a treat that was floating at the bottom of a bucket, was smart enough to realize that if it put rocks in the bucket the water level would rise enough so the treat could be gotten.

That one blew my mind as I doubt most 10 year old humans would think of that.

“Raising wild crows” seems to be contradictory. Can you elaborate on that?

They may seem tame to you, but just watch if you take 'em to a crowbar.

Some birds are idiots. A chicken, for instance, is the one thing in the world stupider than a sheep (rocks are the next step up, then cows). The corvids are not in that category.

ORLY? (Link to video.)

My crow ancedote…during the midst of the West Nile virus outbreak last decade, I was outside when I saw a crow fall out of a tree dead (thankfully not too close to where I was). What followed was the saddest chorus of “caws” I’ve ever heard from all the crows in the neighborhood.

PBS had a show on crows last week where they called it the smartest of birds. They did a face recognition test where the adults saw this man with a face mask. Then those adult birds had offspring that never saw the man with the mask. The offspring were followed by GPS until they were juvenile birds. Then they went there and the man with the face mask crossed the street in their view. Supposedly, they could tell by the body and crow language that they recognized this man. The suggestion was that this knowledge was taught to the young, rather than inherited intelligence. They also said the crow language is equal to the average five year old human.

I always cringe when I read something like that. Crows and parrots may be able to perform some tests at the level of a 5 year old, but they certainly don’t have equivalent intelligences. In fact, they are likely to be smarter in some areas and not so smart in other areas.

Also, a 5-year-old will have a vocabulary of at least 2,500 words.

Having said that, crows are really smart. They are able to reason through problems, and have been shown to figure out complex tasks doing them correctly the first time (ie, not trial and error).

So there is ample evidence that crows are intelligent animals. Is there any reason to believe crows are less intelligent than humans? Or more intelligent?

Their electronics industry is distinctly subpar.

Scientists have been trying to figure out if crows are more intelligent than we are, but they always refuse to complete any IQ tests we give them!

Recovering wild crow chicks and raising them by hand in an open environment. They are free to fly away at any time. They didn’t. Constant companions of the neighbor. They got used to us because we interacted with them. A learning experience for all of us. The crows were also very discerning. Any hint of someone else approaching and they were gone. After the strangers left it was not uncommon to find then right back, on the gutter, on a chair, even your shoulder. My mother was in a constant “battle” with them because they kept stealing the clothespins, leaving the clean laundry on the ground.

No, no, no. They’re waiting for wages in China to rise so that outsourcing will come their way. They’re sneaky like that!

There is a vending machine for crows (neat TED talk about crows).