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Japan’s Amazingly Intelligent Carrion Crows (Corvus carone) – Bird Behavior Notes


While in Tokyo recently, I remarked to a biologist friend that I was surprised to see that crows were so much at home in the heart of this giant, busy city.  The local species is closely related to the American and fish crow, neither of which usually frequents urban areas.

As we talked on, I learned that carrion crows utilize cars to break nuts.  This in itself is not so unusual, as crows and their relatives are well-known for their tool-using skills, and many birds drop clams, bones and other such items on hard surfaces to crack them (please see my article on crows and ravens ).

But carrion crows in Tokyo, Osaka and elsewhere have refined the art immensely.  Dodging cars to retrieve cracked seeds was apparently not to their liking, as many now leave nuts to be cracked within the pedestrian crosswalk.  They wait patiently until the light is in their favor, and then walk out, along with the “regular pedestrians”, to claim their now-edible nuts!

Having grown up in NYC, I was shocked upon visiting Tokyo to see that no one, young or old, crossed against red lights…even when there is not a car in sight.  It just doesn’t happen!  My friend assured me that the crows are not always so well-behaved as the people, and sometimes ran out for their rewards during lulls in traffic, against the light!

Unfortunately, I heard the story shortly before departing for Kyoto, where it seems the crows are not quite as sharp (or fearful?) as their big-city cousins, but I did get to see numerous car-cracked nut shells in one neighborhood.  Carrion crows are quite regular in their habits…in some countryside areas, their calls as they fly to roost were (and I hope still are!) a signal for children to return home for dinner.

Yes, you can see it on Youtube! A segment from a BBC show is posted at http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=BGPGknpq3e0

Image referenced from Wikipedia and originally posted by BS Thurner Hof


  1. avatar

    Now thats a real big crow and as in all corvids highly intellegent as well

  2. avatar

    Hello, Frank Indiviglio here.

    Thanks for your interest in our blog.

    Yes, they are bigger than most crows, not quite raven-sized, but very impressive. Corvids are among the brightest of birds. You might find my article on Tool-Using Crows interesting as well; Ravens have learned to retrieve ice fishing lines and steal the bait! Please also keep an eye on the blog for an up-coming article on Starlings – I “knew” one captive that developed quite a vocabulary.

    Enjoy and hope to hear from you again,

    Best regards, Frank Indiviglio.

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I believe that I was born with an intense interest in animals, as neither I nor any of my family can recall a time when I was not fascinated by creatures large and small. One might imagine this to be an unfortunate set of circumstances for a person born and raised in the Bronx, but, in actuality, quite the opposite was true. Most importantly, my family encouraged both my interest and the extensive menagerie that sprung from it. My mother and grandmother somehow found ways to cope with the skunks, flying squirrels, octopus, caimans and countless other odd creatures that routinely arrived un-announced at our front door. Assisting in hand-feeding hatchling praying mantises and in eradicating hoards of mosquitoes (I once thought I had discovered “fresh-water brine shrimp” and stocked my tanks with thousands of mosquito larvae!) became second nature to them. My mother went on to become a serious naturalist, and has helped thousands learn about wildlife in her 16 years as a volunteer at the Bronx Zoo. My grandfather actively conspired in my zoo-buildings efforts, regularly appearing with chipmunks, boa constrictors, turtles rescued from the Fulton Fish Market and, especially, unusual marine creatures. It was his passion for seahorses that led me to write a book about them years later. Thank you very much, for a complete biography of my experience click here.
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