Wednesday, August 27, 2008

Crows are watching you

Just read an incredible article in the New York Times. It turns out that crows (and their relatives, ravens and magpies) can recognize human faces. Not only that, they keep a lookout to see if someone they know (and fear) is nearby.

Researchers donned "dangerous" masks, and then trapped, banded, and released birds. They then walked through the same area without the mask: no response. Then they walked through the area with the mask and they were scolded not only by the birds they had trapped but by other birds, who were perhaps taught by the trapped birds that that person was a danger. There's a very illustrative video.

On Wikipedia, they tell about New Caledonian crows who have been studied for their ability to use tools, including human cars: they drop seeds into the roadway and wait for us to crush them!


  1. There's a story from Northern Canada about two men ice fishing. They left their lines in the ice hole and retreated to their cabin on shore to stay warm. When they came back to the hole a couple of hours later, the lines were pulled up, and a couple of fish were eaten, but there were no footprints! The two men thought it could have been a spirit, as Native legends often have lake spirits that demand food sacrifices. So they baited their lines again, went back to shore and watched.

    After about an hour, a single raven flew out to the hole, pulled one line up using it’s beak and one foot, and found a fish! It ate the fish to it’s content, and then proceeded to pull the other line up! It turns out the raven had been watching the fishermen from a nest on shore and had learned how to get the fish out of the hole. Since it could fly out, there were no tracks. The perfect crime! Well, nearly.

    It is absolutely amazing what animals can learn. In your post about taking pictures, you said it's amazing how you can just scratch the surface and there's a whole new world to learn right there. That's what I feel about animals sometimes. I have a dog and two cats, and every once in a while we see in their eyes this glimpse of intelligence, as if you just witnessed an “ah-ha” moment that’s relevant to them. I wish I could capture that moment forever, it’s so inspiring! It’s their scratch into our world.

  2. "It's their scratch into our world" -- wow, I love this.

    And the story about the raven is really remarkable. Thanks!


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