Nature Notes: Bird Brain!

by Brendan Ruiz, Teaching Intern

In every neighborhood and in every school there is an animal that watches us—perched on telephone poles, flying from rooftop to rooftop. The mysterious black crow is always nearby. If you sit quietly and listen for a while, you’ll probably hear his call, “Kaa! Kaa! Kaa!” But most of the time, no one pays much attention to him. What is he up to? And why is he always around?

Crows have found ways to make the most of living around us humans. They feast on the food we leave behind, picking up scraps, even digging through trash to find a tasty treat. If a crow finds a nut that is too hard to crack open with its beak, it can trick a human into cracking it open. How? Crows will drop a nut on a busy street until a car runs over it and cracks it open. The crow waits for the cars to go by, and goes into the street to collect his meal. That’s a pretty clever trick for a bird!

Actually, the crow is a very intelligent animal. Crows are one of only a few animals on earth that uses tools like humans do. They hold sticks in their mouths and use them to poke into small spaces to get bugs out. A group of scientists at Oxford University wanted to observe this behavior, so they gave a crow a wire and a tube with food at the bottom. To their amazement, not only did the crow use the wire, but it figured out how to bend the wire into a hook, making it an even better tool!

Crows are able to recognize people and remember interactions they’ve had with that person in the past. Scientists who have captured crows to study them found that after the birds were released, they would follow the scientist around, squawking and cawing angrily even after several years had passed. Their incredible brains and mysterious beauty made them popular pets in the past, but they are no longer legal to own. Luckily, they still hang around in our neighborhoods for us to enjoy from a distance.

Photo Credit: Paruula