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Do Tool-Using Crows Surpass Parrots (and Great Apes!) in Intelligence?

Researchers at Auckland and Oxford Universities have recently (August, 2009) published reports that may establish the New Caledonian crow, Corvus moneduloides, as the world’s most intelligent non-human animal.  Related to the familiar North American crow and raven (very bright birds in their own right…please see photo), New Caledonian crows have exhibited tool-using abilities that exceed those of even the most accomplished chimpanzees, orangutans and gorillas.


Birds with Reasoning Abilities?

In the Oxford University experiment, 5 New Caledonian crows were presented with a series of tools, some of which were out of reach, and an unreachable food item.  All five crows figured out the dilemma in sort order – four on the very first try.

The crows used the short, available tool to reach a longer tool, which was then used to hook and retrieve a still longer implement.  Equipped with the longest tool, the birds then pulled the food within reach.  Amazingly, none of the crows exhibited random experimentation – rather, each unerringly chose the proper tool to accomplish each part of the task at hand!

Never before has an animal demonstrated such a sophisticated degree of sequential tool use.  In fact, the crows, none of which had prior training, surpassed even what has been accomplished by well-trained primates faced with similar problems.  Scientists are now trying to determine if “analytical abilities” are involved (seems so to me!).

Gorillas and Parrots

I’m very impressed by the crows, but must also admit being floored by the cunning of a baby gorilla I cared for at the Bronx Zoo.  I was sitting with the animal all night to prevent her from pulling out an IV line attached to her arm.  She very definitely feigned sleep and then slowly inched her hand towards the IV line when I looked away.  Each time I turned towards her, she went “back to sleep”!
Of course we all have our parrot stories…please write in with some that might compete with these crows!


Further Reading

Please check out this amazing video of a New Caledonian crow in action at Auckland University.

One of the crows involved, known to researchers as “Betty”, has made animal behavior headlines in the past.  To read about her tool-making abilities (in this case, bending a wire into a useful hook), please check out the following National Geographic article: http://news.nationalgeographic.com/news/2002/08/0808_020808_crow.html.




  1. avatar

    Well I had two cockatiels once. It’s not exactly talking about their intelligence, but rather their emotions for the main part.
    So there were these times when they started mating. And the male went on top of the female. They were mating when I wasn’t in their view because I was in my bedroom. Then when I came back out and looked at them, they got embarrassed and stopped doing it.
    After that, I looked the other way every time.
    Another time was when they needed to go back in their cage on the balcony (that’s an indoors balcony, so they can’t fly away, but gives them free space) then I let the female fly there, and she was so scared of the dark that she stopped in midflight, and was looking at the cage but was so scared she was walking toward me with her head turned backwards. She looked so silly but I manually took her to the cage.
    She died a while back.

  2. avatar

    Hi Skye,

    Thanks for the interesting observations! Best regards, Frank

  3. avatar

    I worked in a corporate hangar at burbank airport. A pair of crows decided to make a nest at the top corner of our old hangar. After lots of noise flapping and sitting and several weeks they disappeared. We rented a cherry picker to remove the nest as it was at least 30 feet up. The nest was half the size of a volks Wagon and made with branches and twigs of pine trees. Mainly the size of your finger. So tightly woven too it was nearly I destructible. No eggs or evidence of any sad to say.

  4. avatar

    my other crow story is quite common in Los Angeles in the hotter areas in the summer when it’s over a hundred degrees to find crows moving from lawn to lawn while the sprinklers are on enjoying the coolness

  5. avatar

    Hi Lisa

    Sorry for the delay…this comment slipped by me somehow. Thanks for the interesting note…amazing how well they are constructed, isn’t it? Seems they would need more than feet and bills to do so… Best, Frank

About 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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