Video: Crows, the Ultimate Problem Solvers

Candice Gaukel Andrews February 20, 2014 51

Corvids—which include magpies, crows and ravens—are often so clever that some scientists consider their position on the intelligence spectrum to be on par with canids, such as coyotes, dogs and wolves. ©Candice Gaukel Andrews

Given all the research that has been conducted on domestic and wild animals, we shouldn’t be surprised at how “intelligent” they are. Yet, evidence of their mental abilities still has the capacity to astound us—which I’m sure you’ll find out for yourself, once again, after you watch the video clip below.

Crows could arguably be called the cleverest nonhuman animals on the planet. In this snippet from an episode titled “The Problem Solvers” from the BBC Two series, Inside the Animal Mind, the jaw-dropping ability of animals—other than ourselves—to resolve problems is examined. Taking center stage is a crow, who completes what’s billed as “one of the most complex tests of the animal mind ever constructed.”

After viewing this clip, you may just come away with a new appreciation for the crows in your own neighborhood!

51 Comments »

  1. Charlyne Lewis May 6, 2014 at 12:54 pm - Reply

    That’s so awesome.

  2. Douglas Owens-Pike May 6, 2014 at 12:54 pm - Reply

    impressive

  3. Kai Chan May 5, 2014 at 3:45 pm - Reply

    Super post, Candice–thanks for sharing that amazing video.

  4. Sylvia Wirth April 14, 2014 at 10:54 pm - Reply

    That is absolutely amazing! Thank you for sharing this exceptional video with us.

  5. Claire Montanaro March 22, 2014 at 4:32 am - Reply

    Ravens are equally as intelligent, if not more perhaps. A pair is nesting close to my home, and it is amazing to see how they communicate with each other, and the lengths they go to protect their nest from – crows.

  6. Vanessa Allen March 22, 2014 at 4:31 am - Reply

    I have seen this before but this was a great chance to watch again. Thanks for posting Candice. I knew a very clever wild Jackdaw who used to sit on my friend’s fence and terrify us as we walked past. He knew we had to open the front door to get inside and tried to dash in beside us to steal food and jewellery. He was often successful in this and tried a number of different tricks to get in. We couldn’t leave our bedroom windows open!

  7. Anne Rasa March 22, 2014 at 4:30 am - Reply

    There was quite a bit of research done on corvid intelligence in Germany during the 1930’s and 1950’s. After these results, I’m not at all surprised that 007 could solve this problem. My mentor, Prof. Konrad Lorenz, had a jackdaw (a small species of crow), that could count up to 9 in any permutation of numbers and crows have long been known to use tools. As David says, they are supreme generalists and that’s probably why they are so successful.

  8. Jools Partridge March 22, 2014 at 4:29 am - Reply

    Fantastic! I wonder if 007 could get into my car next time I lock the keys in!

  9. Devina Anand March 22, 2014 at 4:29 am - Reply

    Amazing video about crow 007!!! Did not know they are that smart!! We think of them as simply scavengers usually…..not anymore!!

  10. Mike Chuinard March 22, 2014 at 4:28 am - Reply

    Great video! Humans underestimate animal intelligence while overestimating our own.

  11. Carolann James March 22, 2014 at 4:26 am - Reply

    Amazing Birds! Many years ago (and unfortunately before cellphones had picture taking ability!), I too, witnessed a problem solving crow. Someone had thown out some broken up pieces of bagels in a field where there was a “murder” of 6 or 7 crows. Most of the crows were picking up pieces and flying off to cache them somewhere and returning for more. But THIS crow proved to be very efficient. He (or she?) spotted the first piece and was about to fly off but then spotted a second. But because the first piece was too big, this smaller piece would have fallen out. So he dropped the first piece and rearranged it in his beak so that the smaller piece was wedged further back. Again…just as he was about to fly off he spotted a third piece which was smaller yet. So…he dropped all three and rearranged them yet again and finally flew off which 3 pieces of bagels in his beak arranged very precisely: from small to medium to large.

  12. John Dean March 22, 2014 at 4:25 am - Reply

    Fantastic! Thanks.

  13. Sanne van der Rosi March 22, 2014 at 4:24 am - Reply

    What a beautiful video! Thanks for sharing.

  14. Ahmad Mahdavi March 22, 2014 at 4:22 am - Reply

    Dear Candice,
    Have you seen this:
    If men had wings and bore black feathers, few of them would be clever enough to be crows.
    Rev. Henry Ward Beecher

    Regards,
    Ahmad Mahdavi

  15. Sugandha Iyer March 22, 2014 at 4:21 am - Reply

    Interesting.

  16. Perla Copernik March 22, 2014 at 4:21 am - Reply

    These birds never cease to amaze me!

  17. Charles E. Sloan March 22, 2014 at 4:18 am - Reply

    As a kid I had a wounded crow for a pet, or it was probably the other way around, I’m sure of it now…I kept him for a few months before taking him to a nature preserve near my house. It reminded me that I had a certain call to call him over to me whenever I was down in the basement or outside near him. This vid explains why he recognized me from the nature preserve cage and would glide down to where I would be standing without me having to even use the call. I still wonder when he was released back to the wild after “wing rehab” if he was the crow that would sit in our backyard for hours for a couple years in a row. He never once pecked me and instantly would climb in my hand or get on my shoulder since day one…. strangest thing ever! Thank You for the post, brought back good memories!

  18. Lawan Bukar Marguba February 26, 2014 at 6:06 pm - Reply

    Yes, after watching this video it is difficult under estimate the intelligence of any bird. It is certain that we as humans are missing so much about our fellow creatures.

  19. Amy Witkowski February 26, 2014 at 6:04 pm - Reply

    Amazing! Thanks!

  20. David Anderson February 26, 2014 at 6:03 pm - Reply

    t’s a great thing corvids are common. And it’s no wonder they are. they are supreme generalists. We all can enjoy their behavior. I like watching them as they simply walk and look.. I wonder what they think about?

  21. Martina Thelen February 26, 2014 at 6:01 pm - Reply

    Crows show a brilliant intelligence! I am very impressed by this specific individual´s complex and planning cortex-function! It is extraordinary, and I´ve never seen before such a complicated setting of test-performance! Yes, I never will underestimate any crow any more in my life! Respect!

  22. Norman Doak February 26, 2014 at 6:00 pm - Reply

    That is a fascinating and fantastic insight into a “bird brain” . No wonder they are better survivors than we are.

  23. Russell Cronin February 26, 2014 at 5:59 pm - Reply

    Clever birds. I remember hearing stories about crows trying to eat cane toads when the toads were introduced to Australia. The toads have toxic glands on their backs which aren’t much good for crows, but after a while the crows figured out that they just need to flip them over and get at them from the under side. I also enjoy watching them eating roadkill on the highway. They’ve got it figured that all they need to do is hop to the other side of the line when a car comes.

  24. Marion February 24, 2014 at 2:08 pm - Reply

    I think Canada geese are some of the smartest birds. I spend a lot of time with a group of geese here and they know me well. There is one goose who always chased other geese….I guess he’s the alpha goose of that bunch. As a human I thought that wasn’t ‘nice’ so I actually talked to him and said ‘no, don’t chase the other geese’. He listened to me politely but came up with a tactic to fool me. He chases a goose but then walks back to me looking like the beaten victim dragging his bill on the ground. The act he puts on his crazy funny. That was how he dealt with placating me when he chases other geese…he pretends to have been the victim. Normally if geese fight the victor crows about it and flaps the wings and is totally proud…but when I am there and this goose chases another goose he plays the victim card for me. Or sometimes he is chasing a goose head down and racing after it but then he notices my eyes or camera on him and he stops on a dime, lifts his head and neck up and stands there looking nonchalantly around as if he wasn’t doing anything. This is a goose…they are very smart. I have a couple of photos of him doing this on my facebook page…here he takes possession of the water I bring and chases away any other goose that might be interested in it. https://www.facebook.com/onyx.wings.54

  25. Marion February 24, 2014 at 1:54 pm - Reply

    Trust me crows are not the cleverest. All birds are clever. I believe other birds may just decide there is nothing in it for them to solve a problem like this and they may just think it’s silly, they have better things to do. I think you have to appreciate how different birds might think and see things and not expect them all to have the same way of thinking. It’s like humans…they have different interests and talents.

  26. Paula Martin February 23, 2014 at 5:44 pm - Reply

    Corvids are amazing. Similar behaviors are outlined in an older book, “Human Nature of Birds”. It speaks volumes about sentience. We also know that mammals, such as prairie dogs, possess complex language structure and have demonstrated reasoning skills. Look up at Northern Arizona University.

  27. Lorna Sandeman February 23, 2014 at 5:44 pm - Reply

    Love watching these birds in action. Here in NZ, we have the Australian Magpie, which are clever, cheeky and at times destructive, but endlessly entertaining. they also have a great song. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=oYEYc8Ge3nw

  28. Liz Pruett February 23, 2014 at 5:43 pm - Reply

    Really cool – thanks for sharing!

  29. Diaconu Roxana-Mihaela February 23, 2014 at 5:42 pm - Reply

    That’s remarkable!

  30. Robin Davis February 23, 2014 at 5:41 pm - Reply

    Wonderful!

  31. Russell Donnelly February 23, 2014 at 5:41 pm - Reply

    Hello; Excellent ! Another telling example of how we; the human species; are finally beginning to see that we are not the ONLY “smart” species on this planet ! 🙂 This fact is scientifically provable; consider many other planetary species can understand human speech; yet we cannot openly understand direct animal language and dialect; is it not we; the human species being educated by vastly older; more ancestral species educators ? ! 🙂

  32. Angela P. Schapiro February 23, 2014 at 5:40 pm - Reply

    If you like to read books on wildlife I highly recommend “The Elephant Whisperer” by Lawrence Anthony. Has was S. African (died last year) and with his French wife, Francoise’ they created a game reserve in Zululand called Thula Thula. Francoise now runs it on her own. What he learned about elephants is amazing.

  33. Dick Schaffer February 23, 2014 at 5:39 pm - Reply

    I read a book called “Gifts of the Crow” by John Marzluff. When I was done reading it I started thinking about all the people that I know that are not as smart as crows. John Marzluff studies crows at the University of Washington in Seattle. He has been studying crows for a long time.

  34. Laurie Brown (Atkins) February 23, 2014 at 5:38 pm - Reply

    Amazing!

  35. Åse Ohlsson February 23, 2014 at 5:38 pm - Reply

    Woaw!

  36. Sinnadurai Sripadmanaban February 23, 2014 at 5:37 pm - Reply

    crows are very useful to mankind as scavengers,to keep our environment clean

  37. Andy Pham February 23, 2014 at 5:36 pm - Reply

    I’ve seen crows solve many puzzles, but I haven’t seen any like this one. Now I’m unsure of whether crows have higher intelligence than ravens do.

    For example, crows have been known to place nuts on roads so that cars can do the job of cracking them open. An example for ravens is that they were able to pull up pieces of food tied to strings by “stepping” on the string with each pull. Crows were not able to do that from the study I’ve seen. Here’s a good PBS documentary on ravens: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=iUqrBWli_D4

    So the question I have is: Which is more intelligent? The raven or the crow?

  38. Jared Aldern February 22, 2014 at 8:18 am - Reply

    Crows and other corvids are smart, hard workers, and they also know how to have a good time: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=JpRca_qmc8s

  39. prodip kumar sahoo February 21, 2014 at 10:38 pm - Reply

    Really, that is an amazing video. a part of ethology.

  40. David Anderson February 21, 2014 at 7:53 pm - Reply

    When conducting nesting surveys for the northern spotted owl the Stellar’s Jay can be helpful. Often mobbing tells me where the spotted owl is. However, the continued mobbing can derail attempts to see if the owl is nesting. Without harassment the owl will fly with prey (lab mouse) to the female or nest. When mobbing occurs the owl becomes focused on the jay dive bombing him. Fortunately and eventually, the jay stops and the owl flies to his mate or nest.

  41. Ignacio Carazo San José February 21, 2014 at 5:23 pm - Reply

    amazing!!

  42. Andrew Wyatt February 21, 2014 at 5:21 pm - Reply

    The corvids are the smartest birds on the planet!

  43. Claire Smith February 21, 2014 at 5:20 pm - Reply

    Crows are part of the ‘super’ intelligent species group. Having rehabilitated and raised many of these wonderful birds I hope this video will help others foster a new appreciation of this maligned bird. Thanks for posting it Candice.

  44. Terry Bridgwood February 21, 2014 at 5:19 pm - Reply

    So much for the expression “bird brained”.

  45. Larry Ehemann February 21, 2014 at 5:18 pm - Reply

    Found this video clip fascinating and remembered my grandfather being unsuccessful in stopping the crows from stealing the pecans from the tree in his yard. Thanks for sharing this video.

  46. Julie Kutz February 21, 2014 at 1:01 pm - Reply

    I love this, thanks for sharing Candice!

  47. Robert Wilbourn February 21, 2014 at 12:51 pm - Reply

    I had a pet crow when I was in high school, and he was unbelievably smart. He didn’t like my older sister at all, and would start squawking as soon as he heard her car turn into our neighborhood. My cousins also had a pet crow that roamed around their property. The taught him to talk, and he could pronounce the name “Michael”. If asked “where’s Michael” he would respond “Michael’s gone!”

  48. Angela Schapiro February 21, 2014 at 8:54 am - Reply

    That is an amazing video. I have always liked crows. They have a lovely blue sheen to their feathers. I shot one on the beach in the Dominican Republic and it is one of the best bird shots I have ever done. Thank you for sharing.

  49. Duane Mitchell February 21, 2014 at 8:53 am - Reply

    Amazing! Thanks for posting, Candice.

  50. Melissa Hopmeier Moore February 20, 2014 at 12:32 pm - Reply

    I saw this video somewhere once before and, as a big fan of corvids, really enjoyed watching it again. I have human friends who would not have worked this hard to solve a problem, nor have been able to think that many steps ahead! Thanks for sharing!

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