Crows Are Very Smart Birds

by

Now I have heard references before to crows being quite smart, but what I witnessed on the way home from work last week really got my attention.  As I approached an intersection with construction in progress, I noticed several crows perched on the tops of the traffic lights.  The construction crews were gone for the day but because of some cones and plates in the road, the wait for the light was longer than normal.  As I waited through a few signal cycles, I noticed the crows periodically swooping down onto the road in front of stopped traffic.  There was some sort of fast food scattered across the intersection and these birds were eating it.

At first I thought they were just randomly swooping down when traffic stopped and flying back up when cars started to go.  But then I noticed something that made me pull into a parking lot after the intersection and walk back to watch.  Whenever the crows swooped down into the road, one would remain perched on top of a nearby pole.  The crows took turns being the lookout on the pole and were obviously watching not the cars, but the signal light controlling traffic over the spilled fast food.  When the light controlling the turn lanes, (where the food was), turned red, the crow on the pole made a fuss and the others which were waiting on the tops of the various signals would fly down to the road and eat as fast as they could.  When the light turned green, the watching crow would make a fuss again and the others would fly back up to wait for another cycle.  Every so often a new crow would trade places with the lookout.

A couple of things made me realize their behavior was not just random.  First, they always flew back up when the light turned green even if no cars were waiting.  I knew this because a car stalled back about 50 feet from the intersection, close enough to trigger the lights, but preventing cars behind the stalled car from getting through.  It took a couple of light cycles for the stalled car to get going again and for these cycles the crows flew back up to their perches when the light turned green even though there were no cars driving over the food.  Then, after the stalled car moved, a few people who had been frustrated drove through the light after it turned red.  This caused a huge commotion with the crows that had started to fly down to the road as soon as the light was red, only to be prevented from landing by the couple of cars running the light.  The crows then retreated to their perches and watched and waited through several more light cycles before deciding to continue going after the food.  It was very obvious that they knew something was wrong when the light turned red and the cars kept coming and thought to watch the intersection for a while before resuming their scavenging.

Not only were they smart enough to time their eating to the color of the lights, they also knew when the cars and lights got out of sync.  They then were smart enough to watch a few signal changes to make sure all was back to normal before resuming their timed swoops down to the food.  It is an understatement to say I was very impressed!

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Will Sig
1 Dennis the Vizsla

I for one welcome our new genius crow overlords …

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2 Steve

Hey Will,
Wow. So much for the saying “bird brain”. 🙂
Very interesting post.
I know down here in the fall when the walnuts are ripe, the crows will pick them up, fly up to a light post, and then drop the walnuts until they finally crack open. Yes they are smart… but your observation about the light signal at the intersection is just amazing!
Steve
.-= Steve´s last blog ..Best Trade Show Giveaway Idea Ever? =-.

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3 Will

I couldn’t believe it myself at first. I guess that is why I parked and walked back to watch. But I an 100% convinced that they were indeed watching the signal. Of course being 100% convinced does not mean I am 100% correct, does it? heh.

Genius crow overlords Dennis? That’s your humor for sure! 🙂 At least you have a good hat on for observing birds overhead.

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4 Tony McGurk

Wow, thats amazing. I don’t know if I trust crows with their beady black eyes to welcome them as our new overlords. We were told as kids that they will wait for an opportunity to catch you unaware then peck your eyes out. I am still uncertain about it just being an old tale to scare children . You just never know…
.-= Tony´s last blog ..Winter Approaches Tasmania =-.

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5 Tony

Wow, thats amazing. I don’t know if I trust crows with their beady black eyes to welcome them as our new overlords. We were told as kids that they will wait for an opportunity to catch you unaware then peck your eyes out. I am still uncertain about it just being an old tale to scare children . You just never know…
.-= Tony´s last blog ..Winter Approaches Tasmania =-.

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6 Will

Tony that makes me think about our Scrub Jays here. Usually they stay in the trees making their noise, swooping down when all is clear. Right now though is their nesting time and they are very aggressive towards people, dogs, and especially cats. They will follow the cats everywhere they go, dive bombing them pecking at their heads. The cats get quite traumatized by this, but the Jays are sure smart enough to know the danger cats pose to their young fledglings.

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7 Tony McGurk

Magpies are notorious for that here during nesting season.
.-= Tony´s last blog ..Winter Approaches Tasmania =-.

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8 Tony

Magpies are notorious for that here during nesting season.
.-= Tony´s last blog ..Winter Approaches Tasmania =-.

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9 Luc J

That’s an amazing story. Here’s an equally amazing video that I came accross some time ago: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=is63WMcbUyE&feature=related
.-= Luc J´s last blog ..Composting Tumbler – CompoSphere =-.

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10 Will

Luc – That is an amazing video. I had heard about crows using tools, but the last part of that video where the crow bends the wire is incredible!

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11 Steve

Hey Will,
We have a pair of very aggressive blue jays here. We like to watch them, but we have to remember to not leave any food unattended when we eat on the back patio, even for a few seconds, or the blue jays will get it. They are fast! They’ve even ventured into the house a few times…
Fascinating video on the crow using the wire hook. They are smart!
Steve
.-= Steve´s last blog ..Best Trade Show Giveaway Idea Ever? =-.

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12 Will

The ones that chase our cats will follow them right into the barn. Once one of them came right in the front door when I let a cat in. That was fun trying to get it out. Finally I hit upon the idea of propping the door open and shooing the cat out. The Jay followed.

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13 Anna

Will sometimes we underestimate lot of animals, and they are very intelligent. I heard about crows before about rolling nuts on the road so cars can crush them and they come back and pick up the seed. It is very interesting what you wrote and this proves their intelligence even more. Anna 🙂
.-= Anna´s last blog ..A Simple Beauty Of The Green Season =-.

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14 Will

I never heard about the nuts. That is ingenious and after my experience I certainly believe it. When fishing at the ocean I have seen gulls drop crabs onto the rocks and then go down and fight over the splatters. But that could be learned behavior that came about as a result of accidentally dropping a payload of crab. Watching the signals change or rolling nuts into the road is something else entirely, I think.

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15 Gina

This is an amazing story. I’d always known that crows were intelligent but this just proves it. Thanks for sharing this!

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16 Will

You are welcome Gina. I read some of the things on your site and like it much. I have a few suggestions for the site to help a bit. If you are interested, let me know and I will send them in an email.

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17 Keith

I had heard of crows using basic tools, but the bent wire is new to me. Will, maybe we could teach crows to drive cars, they would probably be smarter than a minority of the humans we have on the road. At least they would obey the traffic signals.

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18 Binky

The behaviour you observed is quite amazing. You have to wonder just how intelligent they really are.
Binky recently posted..Can’t Imagine ThatMy Profile

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19 Denise

It is interesting reading about others’ observations of crows. When I came home from work one evening, I fed part of a sandwich I was eating to a crow that was hanging around my condo parking lot. Guess who was waiting for me when I came home from work the next day? I was surprised. Then it got to the point where I was scrounging around for something to feed him. Sometimes he would have “friends” with him, sometimes not. There were a few times when I didn’t have anything to give him, so I apologized (I HOPED he could understand what I was saying!) and walked toward my door. He would fly from place to place, always landing several feet in front of me. He knew right where I was going! After a while, I stopped seeing him. I think he gave up because I stopped having food for him. Then, one day, probably about a year later, there he was again! I couldn’t be sure it was the same bird, of course, but it had to be because he exhibited the same behavior of flying from place to place, preceding me to my door. I couldn’t believe it! I always thought that he recognized me, but I just kept telling myself I must be wrong. But now, I’m sure I wasn’t wrong and he did recognize me. They are amazing creatures! I really hate that some people think it’s a-ok to shoot them!!!

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20 tim coster
21 Will

Thanks Tim – The video won’t play for me. It says “not available in your area”. The title really makes me want to watch it though!

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