Sunday, June 21, 2009

Intellignce of Crows

I am a big fan of corvids, though I admit to limited first had experience with them. There have been a myriad of studies testing their intelligence, as well as books written about it. Some researchers claim that crows may be more intelligent than primates or dolphins. They are capable of complex thought, projection, they have self awareness. Additionally, they are capable of misdirection. In other words, they try to trick each other when hiding (caching) food.

I recently found this article from National Geographic.

Savage's book, Crows: Encounters with the Wise Guys of the Avian World (October 2005), explores the burgeoning field of crow research, which suggests that the birds share with humans several hallmarks of higher intelligence, including tool use and sophisticated social behavior.

The shared traits exist despite the fact that crows and humans sit on distinct branches of the genetic tree.

Humans are mammals. Crows are birds, which Savage calls feathered lizards, referring to the theory that birds evolved from dinosaurs.

"I'm not positing there's anything mythological about this or imagining crows are in any way human," she said.

"But whatever it is that has encouraged humans to develop higher intelligence also seems to have been at work on crows."

They go on to talk about how crows make and use tools, how they are spontanious problem solvers, and how they use trickery to fool one another.

Savage also discusses Swiss zoologist Thomas Bugnyar's research showing how a raven named Hugin learned to deceive a more dominant raven named Mugin into looking for cheese morsels in empty containers while Hugin snuck away to raid full containers.

"This shady behavior satisfies the definition of 'tactical', or intentional, deception and admits the raven to an exclusive club of sociable liars that in the past has included only humans and our close primate relatives," Savage writes in her book.

Another area of crow research that may indicate higher intelligence is how crows learn and use sound. Preliminary findings suggest that family groups develop their own sort of personal dialects, according to Savage.

If you are interested in crows and their complex social interactions, it is worth the read. It does make me think twice car hawking them with the harris' hawks.

Read the rest here.

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