Clever crows don't merely use tools -- they multitask
New Caledonia crows can turn unfamiliar materials into tools to solve complicated problems -- like reaching otherwise unaccessible food.
Wed, Apr 21, 2010 at 09:18 PM
Crows are craftier than we’ve ever imagined, and when there’s food involved, they’ll go to great lengths to get to it — including making and using several tools in succession, according to BBC News. Scientists at New Zealand’s University of Auckland discovered that New Caledonian crows are capable of complex problem-solving behavior.
Not only are these crows from the South Pacific island able to whittle branches into hooks and turn leaves into barbed probes to reach food, they can make tools out of previously unfamiliar materials.
Seven wild crows were placed in an aviary and presented with the following: a short stick on a string attached to a perch, a long stick tucked behind the bars of a box, and a scrap of meat that could only be accessed using the long stick.
"The crows needed to understand they needed the short tool on the piece of string to get the long tool, and then use the long tool to get the food,” professor Russell Gray told the BBC.
"All these birds had to do was to put together things they could already do in the right sequence."
The crows were divided into two groups, with only one group given a chance to perform each step individually before tackling the whole multi-stage task. Both groups of crows managed to perform the task and reach their reward.
Two of the birds solved the problem on the first attempt, including a smartie named Sam who spent 110 seconds inspecting the whole setup before acting to avoid making any mistakes.
This discovery should be a hint that we shouldn't rely on scarecrows — especially because crows can remember our faces. A previous study found that not only do crows differentiate between individual humans, but they hold grudges, too — with the wild crows attacking people who had earlier captured and tagged them, but leaving unrecognized people alone. Smart birds.