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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

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