Sunday, April 20, 2008


This article (minus the pictures) was blatantly plagerized from Sir David Attenborough's Stumbleupon website. I tried to to capture in order to give credit, but couldn't ... on Stumbleupon (which I dearly love) they neglect to provide the web address.

Are you all completely bored stiff reading about corvids yet? Sorry, I can't help myself.

The scene: a traffic light crossing
Carrion crows and humans line up patiently, waiting for the traffic to halt.

When the lights change, the birds hop in front of the cars and place walnuts, which they picked from the adjoining trees, on the road. After the lights turn green again, the birds fly away and vehicles drive over the nuts, cracking them open. Finally, when it’s time to cross again, the crows join the pedestrians and pick up their meal.



A Japanese carrion crow examines the fruit of its labors.



If the cars miss the nuts, the birds sometimes hop back and put them somewhere else on the road. Or they sit on electricity wires and drop them in front of vehicles.

Biologists already knew the corvid family–it includes crows, ravens, rooks, magpies and jackdaws–to be among the smartest of all birds. But this remarkable piece of behavior–it features in the final program of “Life of Birds”–would seem to be a particularly acute demonstration of bird intelligence.

The crows in Japan have only been cracking nuts this way since about 1990. They have since been seen doing it in California. Researchers believe they probably noticed cars driving over nuts fallen from a walnut tree overhanging a road. The crows already knew about dropping clams from a height on the seashore to break them open, but found this did not work for walnuts because of their soft green outer shell.

Other birds do this, although not with quite the same precision. In the Dardia Mountains of Greece, eagles can be seen carrying tortoises up to a great height and dropping them on to rocks below. The hapless Aeschylus (525-456 BC), a father of Greek tragic drama, is said to have met his end by this means.

A seer predicted he would die when a house fell on him, so the wary scribe departed for the hillsides, well away from any dwellings, where he believed he was safe. He wasn’t. An eagle is said to have mistaken Aeschylus’ bald pate for a stone, and dropped the creature in its “house” onto it.

Scientists have argued for decades over whether wild creatures, including birds, show genuine intelligence.

Some still consider the human mind to be unique, with animals capable of only the simplest mental processes. But a new generation of scientists believe that creatures, including birds, can solve problems by insight and even learn by example, as human children do. Birds can even talk in a meaningful way.

Some birds show

quite astonishing powers of recall. The Clarke’s nutcracker, a type of North American crow, may have the animal world's keenest memory.
It collects up to 30,000 pine seeds over three weeks in November, then carefully buries them for safe keeping across over an area of 200 square miles. Over the next eight months, it succeeds in retrieving over 90 percent of them, even when they are covered in feet of snow.



On the Pacific island of New Caledonia, the crows demonstrate a tool-making, and tool using, capability comparable to Palaeolithic man’s. Dr Gavin Hunt, a New Zealand biologist, spent three years observing the birds. He found that they used two different forms of hooked “tool” to pull grubs from deep within tree trunks.


Other birds and some primates have been seen to use objects to forage. But what is unusual here is that the crows also make their own tools. Using their beaks as scissors and snippers, they fashion hooks from twigs, and make barbed, serrated rakes or combs from stiff leathery leaves. And they don’t throw the tools away after one use–they carry them from one foraging place to another.


Some ravens certainly apply their intelligence for the good of the flock. In North America, they contact other ravens to tell them the location of a carcass. Ravens are specialized feeders on the carcasses of large mammals such as moose during the harsh winter months of North America. The birds roost together at night on a tree, arriving noisily from all directions shortly before sunset. The next morning, all the birds leave the roost as highly synchronized groups at dawn, giving a few noisy caws, followed by honking.


They may all be flying off in the direction taken by a bird, which had discovered a carcass the previous day. This bird leads the others to his food store, apparently sharing his prize finding with the rest of the flock.



Ravens share information about their findings of food carcasses because dead animals are patchily distributed and hard to find. Many eyes have a better chance of finding a carcass, and once one has been located, the information is pooled.


Although the carcass now has to be shared between more individuals, the heavy snowfall and risk of mammal scavengers taking the kill mean that a single bird or a small group could not eat it all alone anyway. Some are even believed to solicit help with the carving, by tipping off other predators, such as wolves, about the meat so they will rip it open and make it more accessible to the ravens.


21 comments:

Jamie Dawn said...

SMART birds!

I surely would not want to meet my end by being dropped from a very high height upon jagged rocks, then have the meat picked from my bones by birds.
Of course, there are worse ways to die.

Anonymous said...

Throughly enjoyed the info--Glad to know that socialism is alive , capitalism would surely be their downfall--think us humans could learn much from their lifestyle...saw a beautiful crow today and turned car around to get picture,but s/he took off before i could grab camera-darn darn darn...xoxo

Tom & Icy said...

I like the commercial where the birds ring the doorbell, then close the sliding door so when the human comes back he walks into the glass.

G said...

That's pretty amazing. Of course, I always knew you were one smart bird.

tsduff said...

Jamie Dawn - I'm with you... but thank goodness we are bigger and smarter (you think?) than those silly crows... ;)

Anonymous - Don't worry Sweetie - there are always more Crows. xoxo

tom and Icy - You're on! I love that commercial also - those magpies (yes, they are corvids just like Heckle and Jeckle) where the birds outsmart the dude :D

G - Those birds are far more smart, cognizant, amazing and funny than most of us dull humans ever realize. Thanks for turning your musically inclined ear this wayt :)

Lone Grey Squirrel said...

How did you start your interest in ravens?

Ariel the Thief said...

I love that guy ever since I saw the surprised face of a seagull when he was crawling out of her nest, wholeheartedly explainig to the camera hidden nearby.

No time to read not but will be back. Great photos!

Keshi said...

Some birds r smarter than humans.

MWAH Terry!

keshi.

SOe said...

Very interesting! I have always problems with cracking nuts. Perhaps I should try this method :-)

RED MOJO said...

Very informative and interesting. I learned something new today!

McRaven said...

I got goose flesh. You and I have to be distant cousins or something. Since I am a card carrying Indian I have birds of prey feathers for religious ceremonies. When my daughter Ricki died I beaded her a butterfly handle with 5 Eagle feathers in it. She had earned them.

I love birds. We call them the two winged people. I would love to send you some Native stories I have on Ravens. I think you would like them. E-mail me dahling and give me your address.

Dr.John said...

Thanks for sharing more than any person could possibly want to know about a crow.

jillie said...

It always cracks me up when people say dumb animals. We could learn a whole lot more from them!!! I sometimes think that WE are the dumber animal...ugh!

BTW...stop by my place, I have an award for you XO

weatherchazer said...

Wow! Tha's a lot to take in about the birds! I'm sure I've already forgotten half of it, but it was interesting to say the least!

Kingcover said...

Now that is just amazing what those birds do with the nuts! You can only marvel at the thought processes in their brains that helped them come to understand that vehicles can help crush their hard nuts for them. They sure have come a long long way from the humble Dodo :-)

catnapping said...

This was such cool information to read.

I love crows and ravens. I think they recognize us as individuals, too. Lotsa birds, if you feed them, they will ask/beg other humans for food, but a crow...he'll come looking for you, specifically. The crows in my neighborhood will come out when I'm outside, and take off when other people show up.

And they mourn their dead. I read that somewhere. I do remember watching and HEARING (oh. my. god!) about 40 of them go nuts over a dead crow on campus one year. they were all lined up in the trees and on the power lines above him...cawing and calling, and then abruptly they stopped. all. at. once. and then just took off.

tsduff said...

Lone Grey Squirrel: I think it was when I was nine, a scrub jay (cousin to the crow and raven) came right up to me and stole my sandwich right out of my hand in Malibu Canyon. Thus began my love affair with the corvid family. Through the years I have continued to love all of them, for they all have similar personalities. I hold them all dear.

Ariel the Thief: No need to read - the pictures tell a lot. I too enjoy that Attenborough fellow - stumbling around on beaches and mountains amongst the wildlife :)

Keshi - Oh yes - this is very true! The birds I know could run the world :) xo

SOe - Great idea if you don't mind a little crushed shell and dirt in your nuts :)

Red Mojo - I'm being taught new things by birds all the time - and it is virtually painless.

McRaven - With a blogname like yours, and the stunning art which first caught my eye at your place, there is no doubt about the connection :) What is a butterfly handle? It sounds beautiful. 5 Eagle feathers sounds grand. I shall remember the phrase two-winged people. I love it. My email is forthcoming - can't wait.

Dr John - Ha ha. That was just a drop(ping) in the bucket. One can never know enough about a crow.

Jillie - I think you're right... "man" messes up so often while the birds just simply live their lives. We could learn a lot from animals.

Cool - I'll be over to check it out!

Weatherchazer - HA HA = that's an honest comment.

Kingcover - The Dodo didn't need to have somebody else crush the nuts... he had quite a beak on him. His problem was that he couldn't fly.

Catnapping - You are very observant of crows. I used to feed a flock of crows where I worked. They would sit in the eucalyptus trees like vultures, waiting for me to get there. When they saw me they would begin their chorus, watching as I threw their food out. They brought their babies year after year, and hearing the horrible tortured noises of their young as food was stuffed down their yelling crops was hilarious. Yes, crows do recognize individual people, and make their preferences known. Hard to fool a crow.

I once witnessed a huge number of crows screaming as they watched a fellow crow injured on the ground - the din was deafening. They are truly a fabulous creature and I have nothing but admiration for their clan.

Ariel the Thief said...

Terry, thank you for sharing! The story of the birds use cars to have the nuts broken, and poor Aeschylus' story totally amazed me!

Cheesemeister said...

I had heard this about the Japanese crows.
I saved the bird pictures to my personal collection but that top one will probably end up on the Animal Anarchy blog. I'll try to remember to link back to it this time. Nobody reads my crap anyway so sometimes I'm a little lax about doing things the right way.

tsduff said...

Ariel - I think those birds are truly smarter than I.

Cheesy - you are fine :) I love your Animal Anarchy blog. There is no "right" way - ha ha.

Michelle said...

Wonderful stories. :-) A few years back they did this TV show asking people to send in videos of smart wild animals. The winners were some crows in England that have learnt how to get food out of bins at the local supermarket. Runner up was... another crow! He was one of those that creates tools from wire, but he didn't get first prize because he was in a zoo so not a truly "wild" animal.