Crows – Not Just a Bird Brain

Music
Ambience: American crow

You ever call anyone a “bird brain?” Well, it turns out you might have been paying them a compliment. I’m Jim Metzner and this is the Pulse of the Planet. Candace Savage is the author of the book “Crows: Encounters with the Wise Guys of the Avian World.” She says that crows have a remarkable intelligence.

“There are scientists who have started referring to these birds as “feathered apes,” because of their performance on intelligence tests. When crows are given tasks that have traditionally been given to primates, orangutans and chimpanzees in particular, they tend to do very, very well with these challenges. In fact, they sometimes do better than any non-human primate ever has done. For instance, there’s a particular species of crow from the South Pacific called the New Caledonian Crow. It’s the only non-human animal that’s ever been known to make a hooked tool and use it to get food.”

The reason for this intelligent behavior might come down to the physical dimensions of crows’ brain.

“Scientists are impressed by their brain to body ratio. In other words, the amount of brain tissue that these birds have for every ounce of body weight, and in that measure, they’re on a par with the most intelligent animals that we know, dolphins, chimpanzees and so on. They also have remarkably well developed fore brains. Even though the anatomy of a bird brain is very different from that of a mammal. In that respect, a crow brain and a human brain are quite similar. The fore brain, the supposed seat of higher intelligence in ourselves, is also the largest area in the brain of a crow.”

Crows use their intelligence to play some pretty crafty tricks on each other and humans too. We’ll here more in future programs. Pulse of the Planet is made possible by the National Science Foundation. I’m Jim Metzner.

Crows - Not Just a Bird Brain

Crows do remarkably well on intelligence tests. These "feathered apes" can solve problems and make tools.
Air Date:04/14/2010
Scientist:
Transcript:

Music
Ambience: American crow

You ever call anyone a "bird brain?" Well, it turns out you might have been paying them a compliment. I'm Jim Metzner and this is the Pulse of the Planet. Candace Savage is the author of the book "Crows: Encounters with the Wise Guys of the Avian World." She says that crows have a remarkable intelligence.

"There are scientists who have started referring to these birds as "feathered apes," because of their performance on intelligence tests. When crows are given tasks that have traditionally been given to primates, orangutans and chimpanzees in particular, they tend to do very, very well with these challenges. In fact, they sometimes do better than any non-human primate ever has done. For instance, there's a particular species of crow from the South Pacific called the New Caledonian Crow. It's the only non-human animal that's ever been known to make a hooked tool and use it to get food."

The reason for this intelligent behavior might come down to the physical dimensions of crows' brain.

"Scientists are impressed by their brain to body ratio. In other words, the amount of brain tissue that these birds have for every ounce of body weight, and in that measure, they're on a par with the most intelligent animals that we know, dolphins, chimpanzees and so on. They also have remarkably well developed fore brains. Even though the anatomy of a bird brain is very different from that of a mammal. In that respect, a crow brain and a human brain are quite similar. The fore brain, the supposed seat of higher intelligence in ourselves, is also the largest area in the brain of a crow."

Crows use their intelligence to play some pretty crafty tricks on each other and humans too. We'll here more in future programs. Pulse of the Planet is made possible by the National Science Foundation. I'm Jim Metzner.