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Home > Birds > How Intelligent Are Crows? Fascinating Facts

How Intelligent Are Crows? Fascinating Facts

crow bird_Mabel Amber_Pixabay

Most people know crows as the big, black, noisy birds that are supposed to be scared off by scarecrows. Others associate them with one of their more unpleasant traits, scavenging for other dead animals. And some of us may remember hearing that crows are the smartest birds. But is that actually true?

So just how intelligent are crows anyway? Well, scientists have done quite a bit of research on the brainpower of crows and believe that they are about as smart as a 7-year-old human child. Keep reading to learn how they came to this conclusion as well as some other amazing feats of intelligence that crows are known to perform!

divider-birdCrows Are As Smart As (7-Year-Old) Kids

To determine that crows are as smart as 7-year-olds, researchers compared the reasoning ability of crows to various age groups of children. They tested crows on their ability to understand cause and effect, specifically dropping heavy objects into water-filled containers to raise the water level and bring a food reward within reach.

The crows had to choose objects that were the right weight and figure out that using these tools correctly would result in getting their treat. Not only did the crows quickly decipher how to find solid versus hollow weights, but they also started out picking containers that had higher water levels, allowing them to perform the minimum effort for their food reward.

When asked to perform similar tasks in a comparable study, children younger than 7 had trouble connecting the dots as the crows did. They were unable to consistently use the correct weighted objects like the crows. They also weren’t as strategic about picking which containers to focus on.

Children in the 7-10 age range were able to successfully accomplish this task, but only after several tries.

crow in tree_Alexas_Fotos_Pixabay
Image By: Alexas_Fotos, Pixabay

Crows Use Tools

A study that used motion-activated cameras to study the behavior of wild crows was able to document crows using makeshift tools.

The crows were observed using twigs and leaf stems to dig insect larvae out of holes and burrows in rotting tree trunks and then eating them. Previous research had only been done on captive crows but this video evidence showed wild birds in a natural setting figuring out how to use tools.

Another study, performed using a captive crow, found that the bird was able to consistently bend a straight wire into a hook to use as a tool.

The experiment was inspired because the scientists had previously conducted an experiment where the crow had to pick between a straight and hooked wire to use as a tool. During one trial, the hooked wire was lost and the bird randomly made a hook out of the straight wire on its own.

These studies have led researchers to believe that crows are as good at using tools as non-human primates such as gorillas and chimpanzees.

crow in the snow
Image By: Pixabay

Crows Can Display Higher Thinking Skills

Research by scientists at the University of Iowa proved that crows can think at a level previously thought possible only by humans and non-human primates. These researchers determined that crows understand how to compare objects based on similarities and differences, a key concept in problem-solving.

To conduct their experiment, they first trained the crows how to match two cards with the same single shape pictured. Then, they showed the crows a card with two different shapes pictured, for example, a square and a cross.

The crow had to choose whether to match the card with one with the same two shapes–a square and a square–or one with two different shapes, like a square and a circle. If they chose correctly, the birds were rewarded.

With no previous training, the crows were able to understand and correctly match the appropriate cards. The researchers were going to be impressed if they were able to teach the birds how to think like this. However, the fact that the crows were able to make the leap in logic on their own was even more surprising.

Crows Have Self Control (and Good Taste)

Another study proved that crows are able to practice self-control. In this research setting, crows were asked to wait to eat a snack in order to instead exchange it for a different food item they considered more delicious. Repeatedly, the crows were able to control their impulse to chow down because they knew they would get something better if they did.

Interestingly, the crows showed no interest in waiting if they would only receive a larger quantity of the original food item. Fine dining is apparently worth the wait!

a crow
Image By: Pixabay

Crows Recognize Faces

A team of scientists in Washington was able to determine that crows can recognize and remember individual faces.

To conduct their research, the scientists wore unique masks over their faces while trapping, marking, and then releasing several wild crows. Soon after release, the previously captured birds were able to recognize and begin scolding a person walking nearby wearing the same mask as their captors.

Crows Warn Each Other About Danger

The same study with the masks also showed that crows not only can communicate knowledge to other crows in the area, they also pass down specific knowledge to their offspring. The Washington researchers continued to return to their trapping sites, wearing the same masks, for 5 years throughout their study.

Each year, more and more crows displayed alarm and scolding behaviors when they saw the masks, not just the original captured birds. From this, they learned that birds were passing on the knowledge of being afraid of the masks to their chicks who had never actually seen them.

They also found that even crows in a widening vicinity of the original sites reacted to their masks, suggesting that word was spreading among the crow community.

crows on fence
Image By: MabelAmber, Pixabay


People are always interested in the intelligence of animals, which may explain why so many studies have been done on the subject, not just on crows! While we are used to thinking of monkeys and dogs as intelligent, crows probably wouldn’t make the shortlist if we were asked to name the smartest animals. However, science has shown that they not only belong on that list, but they’re also pretty close to the top! Now that you’ve read this article, the next time you see a crow outdoors, you’ll know that you’re looking at one of the smartest non-human creatures on earth.

Next on your reading list:

Featured Image Credit: Mabel Amber, Pixabay

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