Crows use causal reasoning

 Data Images Ns Cms Dn14745 Dn14745-1 250 The use of causal reasoning to solve problems was previously thought to be something only humans can do. But new research suggests that crows are capable of it too. University of Auckland cognitive scientist Alex Taylor and his colleagues devised an experiment to test New Caledonian crows' causal reasoning. Turns out, they were able to succeed where even chimps fail. I, for one, welcome our new feathered overlords.
"Crows make monkeys out of chimps in mental test" (New Scientist), "Do New Caledonian crows solve physical problems through causal reasoning?" (Proceedings of the Royal Society)


  1. Smart Crows. Okay. Super.
    If, however, seagulls start showing signs of reasoning ability we will have to destroy them all.
    Have you ever been attacked by dive-bombing white-washed evil incarnate?
    I have.
    Devil birds, I say.

  2. Angusm, It’s not the size but the amount used.
    I know humans that probably use nothing more than their autonomic nervous system and they still hold a job of some merit. Imagine where they would be if they used a fava bean-sized portion of the neocortex?

  3. I think that I shall never know
    Just how clever is a crow.
    A crow whose hungry beak is used
    To hook a morsel from a tube;
    A crow that looks at Man all day,
    And doesn’t care what he should say;
    A crow that may in summer drop
    A pound of poop on my car top;
    Upon whose bosom feathers lie;
    That they may taunt us from the sky.

    Experiments are made by fools,
    Who think THEY’RE smart… when crows use tools.

  4. My cousin told me he once had a full-blown discussion with a crow on existentialism, but then again he was known to indulge in illicit substances.

  5. Wait, I thought that we knew this already… correct me if this is not casual reasoning, but pest control people here in colorado get rid of pigeons in an interesting way. They put corn laced with a substance similar to LSD on the roofs of buildings, so when a few pigeons eat it, they freak out, and act strangely (fly upside down, spin around, pass out, etc…). And after that happens to a few pigeons, other birds stop going to the building, logic being (the food on the roof and around the building is poisoned)… so how is this experiment different other than that it proves they can use reasoning fast.

  6. Ice cream for crow
    I scream for crow
    crow dance a-ho-ho
    crow dance…a panther
    Scare crow, you anther.

    Apolgies, to D.Van Vliet aka Captain Bee Fart

  7. All fooling aside, I find crows to be fascinating animals. Where I work and live there are a great many flocks of these birds and I am continually intrigued by their social interactions. Since they were placed under Federal protection back in the 1970s, they have flourished in almost every environment that they inhabit and they almost seem to ‘know’ that they are protected.

    Where I work my office door is open to the outside of the campus and on more then one occasion, as the ‘locals’ flock in the trees and on the grounds late in the afternoon, the bravest member of these groups have actually come into my office and ‘eyeballed’ me almost as to say, “I’m here, what are you going to do about it.”

    One other thing that I’ve noted is that when they roost in the trees, they have a tendency to strip the branches of leaves so that they may have a better view of the surrounding terrain and sky. This behavior has a tendency to leave their favorite trees a little bare at the top and probably explains why they favored an old, long dead and leafless, oak tree on my uncle’s farm as their favorite place to roost.

  8. Birds brains are really different than mammal brains, so this report does not seem odd.

    and i’m not going to start on seagulls. An acquaintance once got a free meal at an outdoor restaurant. Why? A gull plopped down on his table and tried to take his food. Being a farmer/mule-skinner by trade, he grabbed the bird by the head, killed it and threw it into the bayou. Staff boxed his dinner and asked him to leave.

  9. >so how is this experiment different other than that it proves they can use reasoning fast.

    Essentially, there is no difference. The point isn’t to prove something brand new so much as it is to prove something in a controlled way that allows other people to do exactly what you did and get the same or similar results.

    Science may seem to spend a lot of time proving the obvious, but without rigorous proof it’s really bad science to assume the obvious.

  10. “Science may seem to spend a lot of time proving the obvious, but without rigorous proof it’s really bad science to assume the obvious.”

    Any objections to my having this tattooed on my soul?

  11. There’s a great passage about New Caledonian crows in a recent National Geographic story on animal intelligence. Scientists studying the tool-making skills of a crow named Betty were surprised when one of their experiments didn’t go according to plan:
    “Another crow had stolen the hook before Betty could find it. Betty is undeterred. She looks at the meat in the basket, then spots the straight piece of wire. She picks it up with her beak, pushes one end into a crack in the floor, and uses her beak to bend the other end into a hook. Thus armed, she lifts the basket out of the tube.

    “This was the first time Betty had ever seen a piece of wire like this,” Kacelnik said. “But she knew she could use it to make a hook and exactly where she needed to bend it to make the size she needed.”

    They gave Betty other tests, each requiring a slightly different solution, such as making a hook out of a flat piece of aluminum rather than a wire. Each time, Betty invented a new tool and solved the problem. “It means she had a mental representation of what it was she wanted to make. Now that,” Kacelnik said, “is a major kind of cognitive sophistication.”

  12. Perhaps it’s time humans stopped thinking they are so damn special and unique? Given how most of us live our lives, we’re pretty much the same as animals, anyway.

  13. Crows also recognise humans that disturb them, and take up group scolding of that human when they approach. Didn’t you guys publish that?

  14. Chevan, well said, I would only add, “and quantify” to your statement:

    The point isn’t to prove something brand new so much as it is to prove and quantify something in a controlled way that allows other people to do exactly what you did and get the same or similar results.

    While crows appear to be very clever, just how smart is a smart crow.

    Soupisgoodfood, to quote Fishbone, “Give a monkey a brain and he’ll swear he’s the center of the universe.”

  15. See also “Just how smart are Ravens?”, Scientific American, April 2007. A similar experiment, but using food on pieces of string, and the same conclusion “Recent experiments show that these birds use logic to solve problems and that soe of their abilities approach or even surpass those of the great apes”.

  16. How they manage to be so smart when they have a brain “the size of a fava-bean” is an interesting question.

    AngusM, keep in mind (ha!) that a fava bean-sized brain relative to the crow’s body is about equivalent to the melon-sized brain in our bodies. The same way that an ant carrying a twig might not seem so impressive until you scale it all down and realize that twig is many times the ant’s body weight!

    Besides, like Falcon Seven says, it ain’t what you got but how you use it.

  17. I live in Iowa, where the crows far outnumber people, cattle, and even hogs. I’m a longtime fan.

    For those who wish to learn more about these phenomenal corvidae, I recommend the following books:

    In the Company of Crows and Ravens
    Crows: Encounters With the Wise Guys of the Avian World
    Bird Brains: the Intelligence of Crows, Ravens, Magpies, and Jays
    Ravensong: A Natural and Fabulous History of Ravens and Crows

  18. Birds IIRC are more physiologically advanced than mammals. They have more efficient hemoglobin, more efficient air passage to go with the oxygen uptake, lighter bone structures with equivalent strength and a more efficient water metabolism manifested in amount of water excreted.
    I don’t know from intelligence but from an bio-engineering standpoint their frames are slicker than ours, I’m afraid.

  19. Ravens here will sit specifically over the optical sensors on the street lights during the day in the winter to turn on the lights and warm up the raven.

  20. “Corvis” or “Korvis” is actually an interesting name possibility for a boy, no?
    “Korvis! Time for lunch!”
    Yeah, it works.
    Isn’t there a “Corvis” in Texas or Tennessee, someplace? Oh, I’ll look it up…oh yeah here he is…
    and there’s a perhaps fictional Corvis County in Tennessee…

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