The Intelligent Crow: Can They Remember Human Faces?

Uma ShankariStarred Page By Uma Shankari, 11th Dec 2011 | Follow this author | RSS Feed | Short URL
Posted in Wikinut>Guides>Nature>Birds

Crows are amazingly intelligent. They are problem solvers, survivors, cunning, and can hold a grudge if you do them wrong.

Crows, An Integral Part of Culture And Our Everyday Life

Crows are a part of myths and legends in many cultures. They belong to a family of birds which also includes jays, ravens and magpies — the family Corvidae. You can find them everywhere, except in the polar regions. Their loud and rambunctious caws and their black feathers have made many people fear them throughout history, often associating them with death. Farmers consider crows pests that damage crops by eating their seedlings.

Crow, The Social Bird

Adult crows live for about 10-12 years and they mate for life. Crows use at least 250 different calls. The distress call brings other crows to their aid. They can mimic noises made by other birds and animals. There are documented cases of crows assisting wounded members of their flock by distracting predators.

Crows live with family during spring and summer, but join large aggregations in fall and winter.

Crows Roosting

Crows roost in the thousands to protect themselves from predators like red-tailed hawks, horned-owls, and raccoons. Roosts as large as 200,000 or more birds have been reported.

An hour or more before dusk, birds will begin to fly towards the roost, collecting together into ever larger flocks as they get nearer. Before heading to roost, crows will congregate in some area away from the final roosting site. Here the crows spend a lot of time calling, chasing, and fighting. Researchers suggest that the crows probably share information about food sources. After all the socialization, they move toward the final roosting spot, and after the night rest, they disperse at dawn.

Crows and Their Intelligence

Crows thrive wherever people live and have used their great intelligence to adapt again and again to a constantly changing world.

Wild crows can recognize individual people. They can pick a person out of a crowd, follow them, and remember them — apparently for years.

Young corvids are very investigative, and love to pick various objects, peck at them, and then hide them. They also hide edible items for later retrieval. Some memorize garbage truck routes, and follow the feast every day.

A corvid’s body-mass and brain size ratio is more in line with that of mammals than birds. New research has shown that they are among the most intelligent animals on the planet. Here are several instances:

  • Crows use tools intelligently; they are also toolmakers and problem solvers, but it isn't clear whether they appreciate how these tools work. It may be that they simply discover their usefulness by accident. However, studies of New Caledonian crows, from the South Pacific, suggest otherwise.

  • New Caledonian crows craft hooks from twigs to poke grubs from holes in trees, and sculpt stiff leaves into sharp instruments to probe for insects. The video below shows a Caledonian crow in captivity bending a piece of straight wire into a hook to probe for food.

    The following very interesting video shows a vending machine that teaches crows to deposit coins they find into a special vending machine that dispenses peanuts. He puts coins and peanuts around the machine. The crows eat the peanut on the feeder tray. Then Joshua took away the nuts and left coins in the feeder tray. It pisses off the crows. They sweep the coins around with their beaks, looking for food. When a coin accidentally drops into the slot, it dispenses a peanut. Next, Joshua took away the coins. The crows learned to find coins elsewhere and deposit them.

  • Crows drop food items, such as shells and nuts, from the air onto hard surfaces to crack them open and eat whatever is inside. They even place hard-to-crack nuts on roads in front of passing vehicles, then retrieve the crushed-open nut. The following video shows the crows do this at traffic light crossings and waiting patiently with human pedestrians for a red light before retrieving their prize.

  • They possess is the ability to recognize individual human faces and pick them out of a crowd up to two years later. And they'll hold a grudge if you do them wrong.

  • They also use memories of past experiences to plan ahead. Crows with past experience of pilfering food caches collected by other crows can then use this knowledge to protect their own caches. Lab experiments showed that if a habitual thief was observed while burying its own cache, it would later go back and move it when no other bird was looking.

  • Candace Savage, author of 'Encounters with the Wise Guys of the Avian World' describes how a crow learned to moisten dry food set out for it by humans by filling a small plastic cup with water and dumping it over the food.

  • She also describes how juvenile and adult ravens differ when feeding on a carcass and says crows display tactical deception to manipulate the outcomes of their social interactions. The juveniles cause a ruckus when feeding to recruit other young ravens to the scene for added safety against competition with adult crows. The adults, by contrast, keep quiet to avoid drawing attention—and competition—to the food. Savage also describes how a particular crow deceived a more dominant raven into looking for cheese morsels in empty containers while itself raiding full containers.


    Candace Savage, Corvidae, Crows Intelligence, Tool Making

    Meet the author

    author avatar Uma Shankari
    I write on society, relationships, travel, health, nutrition and fitness.
    Join Wikinut/Triond:

    Share this page

    moderator Mark Gordon Brown moderated this page.
    If you have any complaints about this content, please let us know


    author avatar Mark Gordon Brown
    11th Dec 2011 (#)

    For sure crows are very smart, that is often why some people do not like them.

    Reply to this comment

    author avatar Denise O
    14th Dec 2011 (#)

    What a clever bird. Great information on crows. Congrats on the star page, it is well deserved. Thank you for sharing.:)

    Reply to this comment

    author avatar Sivaramakrishnan A
    22nd Dec 2011 (#)

    They are indeed great survivors! Thanks for the informative artcle. So another species, apart from us, to hold a grudge! - siva

    Reply to this comment

    Add a comment
    Can't login?