Weird But Awesome, These Crows Are Super Smart

Some people think birds are stupid, that they have small brains, and that they cannot learn. Some people don’t like specific birds and think that crows are mean and vicious birds.

But this article will tell you different. It will tell you that birds are smart and they can learn. Not only that, a study shows that crows can design tools from memory, just like humans. Wow.

New Caledonian crows are not only smart, they have sophisticated brains. But they don’t have a tradition of language, teaching or imitation, that we know of at least. So how do they do it?

The crows can remember what they’ve seen and design tools based on memory. For the animal kingom, this is a rare quality. Scientific reports released from Cambridge University in England and the University of Auckland in New Zealand say it’s the “metal template matching” that allows crow culture to pass on their tool-making conditions.

New Caledonian crows make basic stick tools, hooked stick tools and barbed tools out of plant leaves. It could be that they learn to make these tool designs from each other and that the designs just improved through the ages.

But in the wild, the crows don’t appear to observe or imitate each other. It must be beyond what we can see of them because these same designs have been seen in different areas over several decades. And their designs have improved over time.

This is the reason that the study suggests these tool-making skills are traveling throughout the crow populations. But how are they doing it? This is what remains a mystery.

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The researchers believe that the crows make a mental template of the tools and like humans, they can see something and without instruction, can similarly fashion one that’s just like it or even better.

The researchers wanted to test this theory so they put the crows to the test and had eight different birds, with unknown materials, retrieve food from a vending machine with the implements that they created:

“We developed an arbitrary manufacture task that mirrored pandanus tool manufacture, in that it required the ripping of material in order to gain food. However, instead of pandanus leaves, we used an unfamiliar manufacture material (card). By requiring crows to use this man-made material to create items that take different shapes than pandanus tools, our task had sufficient novelty to prevent the crows from transferring learnt rules formed during their prior tool manufacture experience in the wild.”

Six of the eight crows were able to fashion tools from paper cards, although the material lacked leave-like qualities (like veins) and made the task more difficult. The researchers said that these two birds were unsuccessful because they were juvenile birds and did not have a fully developed cognitive capacity.

“Our results provide the first evidence to suggest that New Caledonian crows have the cognitive capacity to manufacture objects from a mental template,” the study showed. Researchers agree that crow culture is evolving from memory.  “Mental template matching is now the leading hypothesis to explain why New Caledonian crow tools show some of the hallmarks of cumulative cultural evolution,” they concluded”

Like I said, weird but awesome. Way to go, crows!