New Caledonian Crow tool use and behavior research

Crows Know How

February 2, 2011 by  
Filed under Birding Tips

Researchers and scientists have been studying the New Caledonian crow for a number of years now. It has proven to be a bird with extraordinary capabilities, able to solve problems and use tools to gain access to food. This remarkable talent has led to numerous papers being published in regard to the intelligence of the crow. It seems that researchers wanted more and believed that the crows’ problem solving skills could be pushed a little further, and they were right. New tests have shown that crows are able to devise plans and show extreme caution in unfamiliar circumstances.

The first round of research was done to see how crows make use of tools to forage. Researchers gave the crows a three phase puzzle which was solved successfully. They first used a short stick to retrieve a longer stick, which they then had to use to get to their food which was placed in a hole. This test already stunned researchers, but the crows have now shown that they use tools for various other actions as well.

Over and above using sticks to find food, it seems that New Caledonian crows also use sticks to look at objects they deem to be potentially dangerous. Instead of inspecting it closely, they make use of their sticks to take a look around first before approaching something they are unfamiliar with. Dr. Joanna Wimpenny, a research zoologist on the team is very excited about the new findings, saying: “Evidence is building up that they’re able to plan their actions in advance, which is very interesting from a cognition point of view. It isn’t just that they’re responding in a pre-programmed sort of way. It seems possible they may potentially view a problem and know what the answer is.”

To test this, a rubber snake was used in one instance. The crow moved a little closer, but showed signs of being hesitant. He then used a tool to prod the snake a few times and after seeing no movement, he quickly pulled on the tail while jumping backwards. Once he was sure that the rubber snake posed no danger, he approached completely and began pecking on it. These tests and research prove that crows have an intricate thought process. Further behavioral studies are underway to find out more about these fascinating birds and their intelligent problem solving abilities.

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