New Caledonian Crow tool making and intelligence studies

Breakthrough in Understanding Bird Intelligence

April 26, 2010 by  
Filed under Features

Humans and primates have always been seen as intelligent due to the ability to solve problems and create tools to assist in various labors. But there is another creature that uses its tool making skills every day: the New Caledonian Crow. Similar in size to the normal House Crow, New Caledonian Crows can be distinguished by their less slender look, and their rich feathers that often shine in shades of dark blue and purple. They are all black in color, with chiseled features, and have very advanced skills that give the phrase “bird-brain” new meaning.

Scientists have been researching New Caledonian Crows and are ready to release their findings in regard to the abilities of this fascinating bird. It has always been known that these crows make use of tools in the wild to obtain food. They create tools from screw pine leaves by using their beaks to cut away the leafy edges to form a narrow strip that they are able to use to scratch in small holes to extract insects. Researchers decided to put the skills of the crows to the test, not by asking them to perform a one step task, but by giving them various options and multi-step tasks to complete. Some birds were able to assess the situation and complete their tasks on their first try, while others were able to figure out the solution to the problem within their first four attempts.

One of the tests given to the crows involved a piece of meat that was placed in a box, but was out of their reach. They were then given a short stick, and a long stick was placed in another box. The crows quickly established that the short stick was too short to retrieve the meat, but long enough to retrieve the longer stick and completed their task, which was rewarded by the tasty treat. Another test gave the crows a straight wire to remove a small bucket from a hole, containing meat. Here, the crows assessed the situation and used their skills to bend the straight wire into a hook to retrieve their food. Zoologist, Professor Alex Kacelnik, from the University of Oxford commented: “These animals learn something interesting, no doubt, and can use its flexibly to generate new behavior, a feat that until a couple of decades ago was thought to be restricted to humans and other apes.” Research has also shown that adults teach their young the skills they know, ensuring that the next generation is also able to solve food related problems. One fact is for certain: humans will never look at crows in the same light again. They have proven to have extraordinary skills and the ability to manufacture tools.

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