|Crows on the Quad are smarter than you think|
|Written by August Cassens, Columnist|
|Sunday, 03 March 2013 13:38|
If you go to ISU, you know about the crows on campus. They travel in hordes, creepily perched on trees, either squawking away or silently staring at the world below.
Most cultures believe them to be a bad omen, scavenger or a nuisance, but after watching a show on PBS titled “Murder of Crows,” I learned their most striking characteristic is not their belligerent tweeting that wakes me up in the morning, but their intelligence.
According to the show, they’re among the brightest animals in the world. Some of their most amazing abilities are being able to pick a face out of a crowd, making and using tools and passing on information from one generation to the next.
Crows know us better than we know them. In one study, researchers wore masks and walked casually past nesting crows. The next time the masked researches walked through, several birds were squawking an alarm. They knew it was a repeat visitor, and possibly posed a danger.
The researchers were also testing the theory that crows pass on information from generation to generation, and found that crows pass on information of danger to their offspring; an offspring, six months after it learned the behavior from its parents, sounded an alarm to the same masked man.
Because it was discovered that crows pass on information to their young, their culture evolves — a capability that is only achieved by a handful of the world’s smartest creatures.
An Australian species of the crow is capable of using and even making tools to find food, as well. Not bad for an animal that has the brain size of a peanut, especially when the only other animals that make tools are elephants and chimpanzees.
In another test, they were able to use a tool to get another tool to get their food. This meta tool use, as it’s called, is considered to be one of the key factors in the evolution of the human. It was the point when humans didn’t use rocks to break apart rocks, but used rocks to break apart more rocks, that we as a species were able to move forward.
In a truly remarkable study, a crow was able to cognitively plan three steps in order to get food. A small stick was attached to a string hanging from a tree. In order for the crow to get food, it had to pull the string up, grab the small stick, use that stick to retrieve a large stick, and use that to get the food. Not even small children could accomplish this cognitive feat.
Crows also have a diverse language with more than 250 distinct calls, with two separate dialects for each crow — one for the general crow public and one for their family. This diversity of language is extremely uncommon.
Crows are a lot like humans. They are social omnivores who function in a family environment. Not only do they have parents, with whom they spend up to five months with, but they also have extended family and friends. They mate for life too, so attracting one is extremely important, as their life can be as long as 20 years.
A final human-like crow tendency is conducting what has been described as a funeral. When one of their own dies, a mass gathering occurs around the bird. They sit in silence for a few moments and then take off without a sound. They also avoid places where other crows have been killed, like farms, for up to two years.
You may not like their calls or their eerie perching, but crows deserve some respect. They are smarter than you think, and are more like us than many animals. Next time you see them on the Quad, check to see if they’re squawking at you — they may be sounding an alarm that you’re dangerous.