Bird Brains of Formidable Power: The Impressive Mental Capabilities of the Common Crow

Sometimes watching crows brings up a bit of a conundrum.  Are they being entirely idiotic as they make a ruckus shouting at the top of their lungs and hop around stabbing anything that has the remotest chance of being edible with their beaks?  Or are they elegant creatures with a refined communication system and an organized methodology for finding food?  The answer is the latter!

While “elegant” may seem like a stretch, there is no doubt that crows are at least clever.  In fact, the Greek storyteller Aesop used the crow to demonstrate wit in a fable in which a crow dying of thirst found a pitcher with a tall, narrow neck that prevented him from reaching any of the water inside.  To remedy the situation, the crow used some quick thinking and dropped pebble after pebble into the pitcher until the water level was high enough for him to drink.  More recently, a 2014 study showed that this display of bird brains is not limited to fable, as crows (and their close relatives rooks and jays) solved this exact puzzle by dropping pebbles into a water-filled tube to access some food, something that children under seven usually are incapable of figuring out.   And it is not limited to the lab, either– tool usage is a matter of daily life to crows, most notably the New Caledonian crows, who are famous for creating hooks and spears out of twigs to stab grubs for lunch.

So crows are very resourceful, and they put their loud voices to equally good use.  While most of their singing, like other songbirds, is territorial, it functions doubly to let the members of their families know when they’re home.  Crows are very social birds, and all crows have a distinct timbre to their voices that other crows in their neighborhoods use to identify them.  Their calls also have distinct meanings, with different warning calls depending on the threat– for example, the call a crow would use to alert its family of a hawk would sound different from the call he would use to warn about a human.  And their defense systems are equally distinguished.  Crows are able to not only recognize human faces but also teach their offspring which faces to beware of and which are kind.  As for hawks and other birds of prey, crows will actively band together and pester them continuously until they leave the area for good.

However, perhaps the crows’ highest mark of intelligence is that they like to have fun.  They take their pestering abilities beyond the realm of self-protection and purposefully play pranks and tease other animals, whether by mimicking their voices, mobbing them, or stealing their belongings.  They also perform aerial acrobatics simply to amuse themselves, sometimes taking turns jumping into strong drafts of air or flying upside down.  They are also known to slide down inclines, splash in water more than is necessary to get clean, hang upside down from tree branches, and talk to themselves just to hear the sound of their own voices.  This is a bit of a stumper for evolutionists– “having fun” doesn’t boost a crow’s fitness for survival!  How could “having fun” ever be naturally selected for, especially when it leads to utter nonsense?  To the Christian, however, there’s an explanation readily at hand– God gifted the crows with their crow craniums, and they’re giving thanks to Him together as they dive into the sky and sing loud songs of praise.




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  1. It’s out now, crows are taking over the world.