Crows Are as Smart as a 7-Year-Old Human (The Surprising Intelligence of Birds)

In the vast animal kingdom, intelligence has evolved in remarkable and varied ways.

While we often think of primates as the pinnacle of animal intelligence, other creatures like orcas and dogs continually surprise us with their cognitive abilities.

The Unexpected Geniuses

But there’s one group of animals that might not come to mind immediately—birds, specifically crows, or more broadly, corvids.

Corvids, including crows, jays, ravens, rooks, and magpies, are incredibly intelligent. They use tools, solve complex problems, and display behaviors that rival those of a 7-year-old human.

Tool-Making and Future Planning

One standout in the corvid family is the New Caledonian crow. These birds have demonstrated remarkable problem-solving skills.

For example, in one experiment, they figured out that dropping rocks into a water-filled tube would raise the water level, bringing a treat within reach.

New Caledonian crows don’t just use tools; they make them. They can construct complex, multi-part tools, a skill previously only observed in a few great apes.

One crow even managed to create a four-part tool, a feat usually associated with human intelligence.

Moreover, these crows exhibit impressive planning abilities. They can choose the right tool for a task, wait for several minutes, and then use the tool to get a better reward. This level of delayed gratification and future planning is rare in the animal kingdom.

Bird Brains vs. Mammal Brains

So, how do crows achieve such feats of intelligence? It all comes down to their brains. Birds and mammals split on the evolutionary tree 320 million years ago. Both evolved a large pallium, the part of the brain involved in complex functions like learning and memory.

Recent studies have shown that the bird pallium is organized much like a mammalian neocortex. Additionally, corvids have densely packed neurons in their brains, enabling efficient communication and processing.

Why Are Corvids So Smart?

The question remains: why did corvids evolve such high intelligence? One theory suggests that their extended upbringing plays a role. Corvids spend significant time with their parents, learning essential skills like tool use.

While adult corvids may not live in intricate social hierarchies like primates, juvenile corvids do form social groups known as “juvenile gangs.” These groups have their own social dynamics, which could contribute to their cognitive development.

Crows and Human Cooperation

Given their intelligence, some companies are exploring ways to train crows to help with environmental tasks, like picking up trash. By rewarding them with treats, these birds can learn to perform useful tasks.

Unlocking the Secrets of the Brain

Studying corvid intelligence not only deepens our understanding of these fascinating birds but also offers insights into the workings of the brain. Intelligence can arise in unexpected places, and there may be other small-brained species with remarkable cognitive abilities waiting to be discovered.

In conclusion, corvids, particularly crows, stand out as some of the most intelligent creatures in the animal kingdom. Their problem-solving skills, tool-making abilities, and capacity for future planning are on par with some of the smartest mammals.

As we continue to study these remarkable birds, we may uncover even more about the mysteries and potentials of the brain.