How intelligent are crows?

Shutterstock.com/ Bruce A Clifton

If you have seen the 1963 classic movie Birds then you will have a healthy respect and fear of crows. In the movie, the crows are seen slowly starting to appear in a playground. One by one, more crows appear until the entire playground appears covered in a black mist of crows. As the children try to run from the school the crows flutter their wings and attack in unison, pecking at the little children and clawing at their skin. The coordinated attack in the movie is something that is surely only possible in films. Crows aren’t that intelligent, are they?

It appears crows are in fact that intelligent but perhaps not that evil. Studies have shown that crows are about as smart as a seven-year-old child (so they were picking on their rivals in that particular scene). While their brains are only as big as your big toe scientists say that it is not the size of the brain that counts but the size of the brain relative to the size of the body. Crows have a brain size that is relatively equal to humans when body size is accounted for.

In the movie, they appear to communicate with each other and coordinate an attack. Crows do talk to each other. In one study where different scientists interacted with crows a number of extraordinary findings were made. The scientists who had been mean to crows were remembered, the crows recognized them. These crows later attacked the scientists who had been cruel to them. Not only that but they were able to tell other crows about the bad scientists and crows that had never been treated badly were attacking the scientists as well. Exactly how crows communicate is unknown but scientists believe it is all down to the intensity, rhythm, and duration of a caw.

Crows have incredible memories too. Crows are migratory birds and one large group of almost 500,000 birds would rest in one community every year during their migration. They would stop in a town called Chatam in America. The town relied heavily on farming and the crows posed a huge threat to them. The people did exactly what you would expect and turned on the crows. People would shoot crows at will in an effort to lower their population. The crows learned from what was happening. They stopped landing in Chatam and now flew high enough that they couldn’t be shot. In a further move showing just how petty the crows are they still excrete all over the town every year.

Other studies have shown that crows use tools and are able to plan for the future. While these are things seen in some other animals like squirrels (who put nuts away for the future) and monkeys (who often use tools). The variety of intelligent behavior exhibited by crows is remarkable. One thing that is truly amazing about crows is their ability to adapt to situations. Many crows survive and thrive in city environments. Crows have been spotted dropping nuts in traffic lanes so that passing cars will open the shells. Not only that but they have been shown to memorize garbage schedules to maximize efficiency in their scavenging.

Crows are clearly an intelligent animal. Evidence has shown that they are able to communicate, work in teams, seek revenge, use tools, and remember their enemies. While many people argue that the movie Birds is an incredible exaggeration it may actually be possible. All we have to do to see the movie Birds come to life is give those crows a reason to dislike us. Instead, I think we should start to treat crows with a lot more respect, I for one, welcome our new crow overlords.