Who’s a clever birdie then? Crows, magpies and ravens exhibit remarkable intelligence
A recent study of crows in the French overseas territory of New Caledonia in the South Pacific shows that the birds use tools to catch their food.
From an article in the New York Times:
The crow uses twigs to poke at a beetle larva until the larva becomes so agitated that it grabs onto the stick with its mandibles, at which point the crow yanks out the twig, having successfully captured its prey.
For the family of birds known as corvids – which includes ravens, magpies and jays – the term ‘bird brain’ has no proper meaning. The brain to body weight ratio in corvids is equal to that of great apes and cetaceans (whales and dolphins).
Despite their lack of a neocortex – the part of the mammalian brain believed to be responsible for self-awareness – magpies have demonstrated self-recognition in laboratory tests. One test involves placing a mark on the magpie’s neck and seeing if the bird notices the mark when looking at itself in a mirror.
From an article in New Scientist:
The feel of the mark on their necks did not seem to alarm them. But when the birds with coloured neck spots caught a glimpse of themselves, they scratched at their necks – a clear indication that they recognised the image in the mirror as their own. Those who received a black sticker, invisible against the black neck feathers, did not react.
That’s right, those pesky birds croaking away in your garden may be more intelligent than your 18 month-old toddler – the age at which most children are able to recognize themselves in a mirror.
Crows in one Japanese city have even discovered ways of opening particularly tough nuts by placing them in front of the wheels of passing cars. What’s more astounding is that some do it over crosswalks and wait for the red light to stop traffic before they collect the cracked nuts.
If you don’t believe me, check out the below BBC Wildlife video, narrated by David Attenborough: