Crows often get a bad rap. In many Western cultures, they've historically been associated with death, disease, and bad omens; reviled as crop-stealers by farmers, and condemned as nuisances by city dwellers. But the birds are fascinating creatures, adaptable and brainy to an extent that's almost scary. Here are a few facts about these crafty corvids that might surprise you.
Members of the genusCorvuscan be found on every continent except Antarctica and South America (although other close relatives live there). To date, scientists have named 40 species. Colloquially, some of them are referred to as ravens while others are called crows, rooks, or jackdaws.
Historically, the name raven has been given to several of the big-bodied Corvus birds with shaggy feathers on their necks. Mid-sized members of the genus are usually called crows, while the very smallest species go by the name jackdaws. There's also a large-beaked outlier known as the rook, which was named after the unusual sound it makes. But pervasive as these labels may be, they're not scientific and do not reflect the latest research. Despite its informal name, the so-called Australian raven is more closely akin to the Torresian crow than it is to the common raven.
In the U.S., when people talk about crows and ravens, they're usually referring to the American crow (Corvus brachyrhynchos) and the common raven (Corvus corax). Telling them apart can be tough, but it is possible for eagle-eyed birders. One big indicator is size: The common raven is much larger, about the size of a red-tailed hawk. It also has a more wedge-shaped tail. As Kevin J. McGowan of the Cornell Lab of Ornithology writes on his crow FAQ page, ravens soar longer than crows, and you can see through their wing feathers as they fly (among other differences). And the birds' calls are substantially different. "American crows make the familiar caw-caw, but also have a large repertoire of rattles, clicks, and even clear bell-like notes," McGowan writes, whereas common ravens have "a deep, reverberating croaking or gronk-gronk. Only occasionally will a raven make a call similar to a crow's caw, but even then it is so deep as to be fairly easily distinguished from a real crow."
2. Older crow siblings can help their parents raise newborn chicks.
Like a lot of intelligent animals, most crows are quite social. For instance, American crows spend most of the year living in pairs (they usually mate for life) or small family groups. During the winter months, they'll congregate with hundreds or even thousands of their peers to sleep together at night in a sprawling communal unit called a roost.
Come nesting season, a mated pair of crows might be lucky enough to receive chick-rearing help. Juvenile birds are frequently seen defending their parents' nest from predators. Other services they can provide include bringing food to mom and dad, or feeding their younger siblings directly. One study found that 80 percent of American crow nests surveyed had a helping hand. And some birds become regular nest assistants, providing aid to their parents for over half a decade.
The sight of a dead crow tends to attract a mob of a hundred or more live ones. During this ritual, the live crows almost never touch the dead one, which rules scavenging out as a motive. Why do they do this? Some studies suggest that the mass gathering is part of a survival strategy: The birds are learning about threats and seem hesitant to revisit any spot where they've encountered a dead crow, even if food is plentiful there.
4. Crows have caused blackouts in Japan.
Since the 1990s, crows have experienced a population boom in Japan, where—not coincidentally—delicious garbage is more plentiful than ever before. This is bad news for power companies. Urban crows like to nest on electric transformers and will often use wire hangers or fiber-optic cables as building materials for their nests. The result was an epidemic of crow-caused blackouts in major cities around Japan: Between 2006 and 2008, the corvids stole almost 1400 fiber-optic cables from Tokyo power providers, and according to the Chubu electric company, crows are responsible for around 100 power failures per year in their facilities alone.
To fight back, Chubu started installing artificial "love nests" in 2004. Made with non-conductive resin, the nests are placed on company towers high above the power lines, where the birds are unlikely to cause any trouble. The strategy seems to be working: 67 percent of the faux nests are currently in use, making life a lot easier for Chubuemployees.
According to McGowan, crows are "smarter than many undergraduates, but probably not as smart as ravens."
Crows are so smart and so good at improvising that some zoologists admiringly call them "feathered apes." And yet, from a primate's perspective, crow brains might look puny. The New Caledonian crow, for example, has a brain that weighs just 0.26 ounces. But relative to its body size, that brain is huge, accounting for 2.7 percent of the bird's overall weight. By comparison, an adult human's three-pound brain represents 1.9 percent of their body weight.
Of all the living birds, crows, ravens, and parrots have the biggest brain-to-body size ratios. And in lab experiments, these avians show a degree of cognition that puts them on par with the great apes. In fact, research has shown that they have a much higher density of neurons in their forebrains than primates do. The amount of neurons in this region is thought to correlate with a given animal's intelligence. Theoretically, having more neurons translates to better cognitive reasoning.
A 2020 study looked at whether crows, like humans and great apes, can demonstrate consciousness. Crow brains lack a cerebral cortex, where most of the primate brain's conscious perception happens. Researchers tracked the brain activity in two crows as they performed different tasks, and discovered that they could perceive sensory input—suggesting that there is much more to understand about the evolution of consciousness.
6. Crows have regional dialects.
Apart from the famous caw, caw noise, crows emit a number of other sounds. Each one sends out a different message; for example, cawing can be used as a territorial warning or a way for crows to signal their location to relatives.
This avian language isn't homogeneous; two different populations of crows may have slight differences. As ornithologist John M. Marzluff and author Tony Angell noted in their 2005 book In the Company of Crows and Ravens, the calls these birds use "vary regionally, like human dialects that can vary from valley to valley." If a crow changes its social group, the bird will try to fit in by talking like the popular guys. "When crows join a new flock," Marzluff and Angell wrote, "they learn the flock's dialect by mimicking the calls of dominant flock members."
In Japan, carrion crows (Corvus corone) use cars like oversized nutcrackers. The birds have learned to take walnuts—a favorite treat—over to road intersections, where they put the hard-shelled snacks down onto the pavement. The crow then waits for a passing vehicle to smash the nut, after which it will swoop down and eat the delicious interior.
It's a risky trick, but the crows aren't usually run over because (unlike some people) they've figured out what traffic lights mean. Carrion crows wait until the light turns red before flying down to place the un-cracked nut on the road. The second the light goes green, the crow takes off to watch the nut get run over from afar; it will even wait for the next red to scoop up the nut's insides.
This behavior isn't limited to just one corvid species: American crows have been observed doing the same thing in California.
8. Crows can recognize your face—and hold a grudge.
You don't want a crow for an enemy. In 2011, a team from the University of Washington published a remarkable study about the brainpower of local crows. The researchers' goal was to figure out how well the birds could identify human faces. So—in the name of science—they went out and bought two Halloween masks: One resembled a caveman, the other looked like Dick Cheney. It was decided that the caveman getup would be used to threaten the birds, while the Cheney mask was relegated to control status.
At the five sites, a scientist donned the caveman mask before catching and banding some wild crows. Getting trapped is never a fun experience, and upon their release, the ex-captives loudly "scolded" their assailant with a threatening caw. Seeing this, other birds who had been sitting nearby joined in the fray, swooping down to harass the neanderthalic visitor. Over a period of several years, both masks were regularly worn by team members on strolls through all five test spots. Without fail, the caveman mask was greeted by angry scolds and dive-bomb attacks from crows—including many who'd never been captured or banded—while the birds largely ignored the Dick Cheney mask.
Amazingly, the caveman disguise continued to provoke a hostile response five years into the experiment—even though the team had stopped trapping crows after those first few site visits. And some of the birds who antagonized the mask-wearer weren't even alive back when the whole thing started. The younger crows couldn't possibly have seen the imitation caveman grab an acquaintance of theirs—but they scolded it anyway. Clearly, the grudge had been passed on; birds were still attacking the mask as recently as 2013.
The moral of this story? Mind your manners around crows. Because if you mistreat them, they won't forget you and neither will their friends—or the next generation.
Lots of non-human animals, including chimpanzees and orangutans, create useful implements which help them survive in the wild. The New Caledonian crow (Corvus moneduloides) is one of only two species on the planet that can craft its own hooks in the wild. The other is called Homo sapiens. The South Pacific avian uses the hooks—which are made from pliable twigs that the crows bend using their beaks and feet into a J-shape—to extract insects from tight crevices.
Another surprising attribute is this species' bill. Unlike virtually all other birds, the New Caledonian crow has a bill that does not curve downwards. For years, the quirk went unexplained, but scientists now think that the avian's unique beak evolved to help it grasp tools more easily, as well as to better see what the tool is doing.
The New Caledonian crow isn't the only implement expert in the corvid family. In 2016, scientists at the University of St. Andrews demonstrated that the ultra-rare Hawaiian crow, or ‘Alalā (Corvus hawaiiensis), is similarly adept at using and modifying tools.
10. Crows fight off predators by ganging up on them.
Crows have to deal with a menagerie of predators, such as hawks, owls, coyotes, and raccoons. To ward them off, the corvids exploit the fact that there can be strength in numbers. Upon seeing a would-be attacker, crows are known to gather, with some groups consisting of a dozen birds or more. Individual crows then swoop down to deliver passing blows with their beaks, often inflicting serious bodily injury in the process. If all goes well, the target will back off—though it may kill a few of the dive-bombers before they retreat. Corvids are by no means the only avians that mob would-be attackers. Swallows, chickadees, and even hummingbirds have all been documented doing this. In fact, crows are sometimes at the receiving end of mob violence as smaller songbirds often feel threatened by them and lash out collectively.
A 2014 study shows that at least some corvids can resist the urge for instant gratification—if you make it worth their while. The research was led by University of Göttingen graduate student Friederike Hillemann, whose team assembled five common ravens and seven carrion crows. Through careful note-taking, the scientists figured out what the favorite meal items of all 12 animals were. Then the experiment began.
With an outstretched hand, one of the researchers gave each of their birds a morsel of food. Then, the animals were shown a different piece of grub. The corvids were made to understand that if they liked the second option better, they could swap snacks—but only if they were willing to sit patiently for a certain period of time first. If a bird ate the original treat during that stretch, it forfeited the chance to trade it for a new one.
Hillemann's results showed that the crows and ravens didn't mind waiting around for an improved snack option. As such, a bird with a piece of bread was content to sit quietly if it knew that some fried pork fat would eventually be gained in the trade-off. However, if that same bird's second choice was another piece of bread, sitting tight would be pointless. So understandably, corvids who were put in this kind of situation tended to go ahead and eat whatever they'd been given. Why wait for more of the same?
12. YOU CAN CALL A GROUP OF CROWS A MURDER, BUT SOME SCIENTISTS WOULD RATHER YOU DIDN'T.
According to the Oxford English Dictionary (OED), the correct term for a group of crows is a murder, an expression bird-watchers and poets have been using since at least the 15th century, which the OED speculates may allude "to the crow's traditional association with violent death, or … to its harsh and raucous cry." But maybe it's time to come up with a replacement. McGowan hates the phrase "murder of crows." To him, it only feeds the public's negative outlook on the animals. "These birds aren't a gang of nasty villains," he wrotein the book Birdology. "These birds are just birds." McGowan would also have you know that American crows rank among "the most family-oriented birds in the world."
They have the largest brain to body ratio of any bird. Their brain to body ration is even bigger than humans. Crows can make tools. They are one of only four species that can craft tools: humans, orangutans, chimpanzees and New Caledonian crows.What abilities does a crow have? ›
Crows are extremely intelligent birds. They are known for their problem-solving skills and amazing communication skills. For example, when a crow encounters a mean human, it will teach other crows how to identify the human. In fact, research shows that crows don't forget a face.How smart is a Black crow? ›
But researchers have found that crows are not only playful and mischievous but also intelligent. They use tools to solve complex problems, and they remember faces for years and mimic sounds they hear.Why are crows so smart? ›
The total number of neurons in crows (about 1.5 billion) is about the same as in some monkey species. But because they are more tightly packed, communication between the neurons seems to be better, and the overall intelligence of crows may be closer to that of Great Apes such as the gorilla.Can crows see in the dark? ›
Crows don't see well at night; owls do.What are crows afraid of? ›
Use balloons, CDs, reflective tape, or anything else shiny to scare crows away. For some reason, shiny, reflective objects scare crows. Some people think that it's because crows are scared of their own reflection.Why are crows called crows? ›
The name is derived from the Latin corvus meaning "raven". The type species is the common raven (Corvus corax); others named by Linnaeus in the same work include the carrion crow (C.How good do crows see? ›
They have a very wide field of binocular vision -- a 60-degree arc where the fields of each eye overlap. That's more than double the binocular field of vision for pigeons, and within the range of human binocular sight.Do crows give gifts? ›
Wild crows are not known to create or display art. But they do occasionally leave behind objects like keys, lost earrings, bones, or rocks, for the people who feed them, a behavior that John Marzluff, conservation ecologist and Swift's colleague at the University of Washington, calls “gifting.”Are crows loyal? ›
Crows remember faces, hold grudges, and are fiercely loyal family members. They mate for life, use tools, and continue learning into old age.
Seeds and fruits make up nearly three-quarters of the American Crow's diet. This includes: corn, wheat, oats, chokecherries, Poison Ivy, pistachios, grapes, Red Osier Dogwood fruits, Bittersweet Nightshade berries, pecans, and watermelons, among other things.Who is smarter dog or crow? ›
They Can Outsmart Your Pets (Maybe)
Cats and dogs can solve relatively complex problems, but they can't make and use tools. In this respect, you could say a crow is smarter that Fido and Fluffy. If your pet is a parrot, its intelligence is as sophisticated as a crow's.
How Smart Are Crows? | ScienceTake | The New York Times - YouTubeCan crows do math? ›
In the end, crows might not be able to solve advanced mathematical equations. Nonetheless, discoveries such as these inspire awe and wonder. Learning how these birds, with their relatively simple brains, display such sophisticated reasoning skills, may in fact hold relevant clues about our own cognitive prowess.Do crows love? ›
Both mating pairs and entire family units can be very stable and organized among the birds. But as Swift puts it, “We don't, and probably can't, know if they fall in love like we consider it.” The majority of crows, though, will mate for life, even if one is injured.Can crows be friendly? ›
Answer: Yes! Of course, crows can befriend many others. Just like people, they can "like" and maintain relationships with lots of friends, so there's no need to be jealous. After I started feeding my neighborhood crows, I met a neighbor doing the same thing.Can crows like humans? ›
Crows can be cautious and aloof and will not readily come to humans. To befriend crows, you must create an environment where they will not only feel safe but comfortable visiting. Crows will seek out a quieter environment where food is readily available.Do crows have good memory? ›
Crows are known for their extraordinary smarts and have been observed making tools to dig food out of tight spots. Now a five-year study by scientists at the University of Washington has found they possess an unusually good memory for human faces linked to a stressful event.What colors can a crow see? ›
“Actually crows have better eyesight than humans. While we can only see light in a combination of three primary colors (red, blue and green), crows' eyes perceive combinations of four colors. The particular nuance of yellow used for the garbage bags has the effect of blocking one of those four primary colors.Do crows remember faces? ›
Ravens and other members of the corvid family (crows, jays, and magpies) are known to be intelligent. They can remember individual human faces, expertly navigate human environments (like trash cans), and they even hold funerals for their dead.
Crows dislike anything shiny [source: Cornell]. Many people repel crows by hanging several CDs on a string across the yard. Hang up shiny aluminum plates. This will work the same way as the CDs, and if they are hung up close enough together to make a noise, that's even better.What smell do crows hate? ›
Using cedar may chase away crows, as they will not want to be irritated by the dust and smell. Garlic is another irritating, pungent smell. This burns our nasal cavities and irritates crows as well! Lemon can also be very strong and may help to deter crows from staying around!Can crows talk? ›
Crows do indeed have the ability to talk. While they don't exhibit an actual grasp of the human language, the crow can mimic complex words and sounds.What are 3 crows called? ›
A group of crows is called a “murder.” There are several different explanations for the origin of this term, mostly based on old folk tales and superstitions. For instance, there is a folktale that crows will gather and decide the capital fate of another crow.Do crows have funerals? ›
A crow funeral can happen at any time. Farmers bear witness after shooting unwanted crows in their fields. Powerline workers see them should an unlucky bird zap itself and drop. Occasionally, the funerals occur in a city park.What colors can crows not see? ›
As birds are tetrachromats, they see four colors: UV, blue, green, and red, whereas we are trichromats and can only see three colors: blue, green, red.Do crows warn of danger? ›
Crows usually post “sentries,” who alert the feeding birds of danger. crows, ravens, jays, and magpies—a family of birds considered intelligent because of their ability to adapt quickly to changing circumstances.Do crows have 2 eyes? ›
A crow has 2 eyes, but can use one to look straight ahead and the other sideways. They have both monocular (seeing from 1 eye) and binocular vision (seeing from both eyes).Who is wife of crow? ›
'Crow' is gender neutral. Thus, the feminine gender is also 'crow'.Do crows steal gold? ›
It is actually a myth that crows and magpies collect shiny objects like keys or pieces of jewellery. Wild adult crows will never collect, hide or store anything other than items of food.
(Feeding a crow is considered auspicious and is practiced on all sorts of occasions, tied to all sorts of rituals.) The shradh has concluded when a crow pecks at the feast and begins to eat. This signifies that the soul of the loved one is now satiated and is at peace.Are crows the smartest bird? ›
Logic and puzzle-solving comes naturally to these highly intelligent scavengers, claim researchers, which make crows and raven among the world's smartest birds. Their brains may be tiny, but birds have been known to outshine children and apes.How do you talk to crows? ›
Make the "Fighting call" in a very excited manner consisting of two long, two short and one long call (cawww-cawww-caw-caw-cawww). The "Feeding call" is an alternate of eight short and long caws in a series, then pause one or two seconds and repeat (caw-caww, caw-caww).Do crows never forget a face? ›
Crows don't forget a face — and they hold grudges, too. Researchers in Seattle revealed last year that captured crows remember the face of their abductor.What kind of toys do crows like? ›
Other items that can go over well include mirrors, children's colourful block toys (make sure they are crow-proof – check with your veterinarian if necessary before introducing human toys!), egg cartons, or bottles with holes containing surprises.Do crows like shiny gifts? ›
Crows love shiny things such as keys, coins, anything metal; which is why you'll often find them picking through your garbage or stealing your food. It's not uncommon to see a crow fly down and grab something reflective from the ground, even the foil from a gumwrapper can get their attention.Is a cat smarter than a crow? ›
They're smarter than any cat andmost children. We acknowledge that your cat or child is exceptionaland would regularly outperform crows, but our money would generallybe on the bird. Despite their charms, crows have been maligned forcenturies. “There are a couple of reasons for this,” says Kevin J.Are crows as smart as kids? ›
Crows Are As Smart As A Seven-Year-Old Child, Researchers Find. Crows are as smart as an average five to seven-year-old human child, according to a new study. The research shows that the crow behavior described in a popular Aesop's fable is real and that crows actually understand water displacement.Is a crow smarter than a dolphin? ›
Crows and ravens are better problem-solvers than dolphins.
According to reporting by the Sydney Morning Herald, they're expert problem-solvers and clever toolmakers. They also seem to understand that other birds have minds like theirs, and their decisions often take into account what others might know, want, or intend.
|Age of Child||Average IQ|
|5 years old||Between 5 and 20|
|6 years old||Between 5 and 20|
|7 years old||Between 10 and 30|
|8 years old||Between 10 and 30|
Crows Appear To Have a Form of Intelligence Thought To Be Reserved for Humans. Anyone who has ever had a run-in with a crow knows that they are quite intelligent. But a new study released in Science proves that they may be even smarter than we think.How do crows communicate with humans? ›
Crows don't "talk," but they do communicate with a wide variety of sounds and movements. The "caw" sound is the call you'll hear most, but you'll also hear rattles, clicks, and patterns and you'll notice specific behaviors that communicate messages, as well.Do crows understand 0? ›
Crows may be bird-brains, but the feathered creatures can understand the highly abstract concept of zero, new research suggests. The concept of zero, as used in a number system, fully developed in human society around the fifth century A.D., or potentially a few centuries earlier, Live Science previously reported.Do crows understand time? ›
But with intensive study, crows have been found to understand mental time travel and have very complex inner mental life.How many can a crow count? ›
Crows notice the quantities of items that they see, and have neurons that are tuned to those quantities, allowing them to distinguish a set of four items from a set of three or five.What are crows favorite food? ›
Seeds and fruits make up nearly three-quarters of the American Crow's diet. This includes: corn, wheat, oats, chokecherries, Poison Ivy, pistachios, grapes, Red Osier Dogwood fruits, Bittersweet Nightshade berries, pecans, and watermelons, among other things.Do crows remember kindness? ›
Do not fear, crows do not just hold grudges against people who have, or seemingly have, wronged them. These incredible birds also remember kindness. Crows are extremely curious and social creatures. This can often lead them to be curious about people.Do crows have funerals? ›
A crow funeral can happen at any time. Farmers bear witness after shooting unwanted crows in their fields. Powerline workers see them should an unlucky bird zap itself and drop. Occasionally, the funerals occur in a city park.What is the IQ of a crow? ›
How Smart Are Crows? | ScienceTake | The New York Times - YouTubeWhich bird is known as lazy bird? ›
CUCKOO IS CALLED A LAZY BIRD BECAUSE IT DOES NOT MAKE A NEST OF ITS OWN ,IT LAYS ITS EGGS IN THE NEST OF THE CROW , WHERE THE EGGS LOOK LIKE ITS OWN.
The largest and strongest living bird is the North African ostrich (Struthio camelus . Males can be up to 9 feet tall and weigh 345 pounds, and when fully grown the have one of the most advanced immune systems of any animal.Do crows bring gifts? ›
Wild crows are not known to create or display art. But they do occasionally leave behind objects like keys, lost earrings, bones, or rocks, for the people who feed them, a behavior that John Marzluff, conservation ecologist and Swift's colleague at the University of Washington, calls “gifting.”Do crows like people? ›
Crows are friendly birds and can be human's best friends. The way to a crow's heart is by feeding them. You can feed them with food and treats they prefer. However, to be able to befriend them and be best friends with crows, you will have to be patient and keep a distance from them.Do crows never forget a face? ›
Crows don't forget a face — and they hold grudges, too. Researchers in Seattle revealed last year that captured crows remember the face of their abductor.What are crows afraid of? ›
Use balloons, CDs, reflective tape, or anything else shiny to scare crows away. For some reason, shiny, reflective objects scare crows. Some people think that it's because crows are scared of their own reflection.Will a crow protect me? ›
Their protective nature makes them view people in their territory as threats. They may attack if they are defending their young, protecting their habitat, want to be fed, or remember you as a threat. Interestingly unlike most birds, crows will not just view you as a threat because you are approaching them.Are crows loyal? ›
Crows remember faces, hold grudges, and are fiercely loyal family members. They mate for life, use tools, and continue learning into old age.Why do crows cry? ›
Crows will caw for several reasons including alarm calls, territorial defense calls, call-to-arms calls, and mobbing calls. Crows that know each other may sing together, rattle, or coo at each other. The most immediate effective way to stop them is to scare them away with loud noises when they caw.Do crows remember faces? ›
Ravens and other members of the corvid family (crows, jays, and magpies) are known to be intelligent. They can remember individual human faces, expertly navigate human environments (like trash cans), and they even hold funerals for their dead.What happens if you see a dead crow? ›
While many believe that seeing a crow is a harbinger of death, others say the presence of a dead crow means the end of bad things and the beginning of all things new and good. I like that rationale. There are also websites claiming crows symbolize change, intelligence, prophecy or strength.