Crows cleverer than first thought

Corvidius

Ad Honorem
Jul 2017
2,063
Crows nest
#1
Experiments with New Caledonian crows have shown that they posses cumulative cultural evolution, a way of learning that is thought confined to hominids, though suspected but not, so far, proven in chimps and passerines, corvids being a branch of the passerine family of birds.

Interesting link that explains the concept of cumulative cultural evolution better than me rambling on for several pages. Studying cumulative cultural evolution in the laboratory | Philosophical Transactions of the Royal Society B: Biological Sciences

Article on the BBC explaining, with video, exactly what the experiments were and how they were conducted. https://www.bbc.co.uk/news/science-environment-44654098

In short, eight wild crows, not all from the already known toolmaking clan, were captured and presented with a vending machine. They needed to drop pieces of card into the machine to obtain a reward. After learning this first step, they found that they needed to insert specific sizes of card into the machine to obtain a reward, either large or small and conforming to specific overall size limitations. They were presented with large pieces of card to cut out, using only their beaks of course, large or small pieces of card in order to use in the machine. This is not normal behaviour and is different to them making probes to get grubs out of holes. Here is the full paper published by the researchers from Cambridge University https://www.nature.com/articles/s41598-018-27405-1

What we see here is the crows showing that they can see a problem and have worked out how to solve it, but in so doing have shown that they have the ability to visualize what they need when looking at the machine and then the large sheet of card. Without wishing to go over the top with this, it is a similar cognitive process to that employed by a sculptor when they visualize what the finished work will be in a block of wood or stone. The cumulative aspect comes in with the crows adapting to changes in what is needed and making different sizes of card.

IMO, this shows mental abilities in corvids beyond that of chimps, and that perhaps we are lucky that avian dinosaurs do not have hands with opposable thumbs, as no matter how clever you are, you cannot make a gun with a beak.
 
Last edited:
Oct 2013
4,954
Planet Nine, Oregon
#2
...it is a similar cognitive process to that employed by a sculptor when they visualize what the finished work will be in a block of wood or stone. The cumulative aspect comes in with the crows adapting to changes in what is needed and making different sizes of card.
I saw that! --it's pretty amazing. They have the ability to mentally model tools and other objects and create them; they are designers.

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Mental_rotation

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Spatial_intelligence_(psychology)#Different_approaches
 

Corvidius

Ad Honorem
Jul 2017
2,063
Crows nest
#3
What I like from the second link on spatial intelligence is that it is defined as a "human computational capacity". I think a lot of what we think we know about the brain, any brain, needs re-thinking. We have, naturally, measured every other animal against ourselves, or at least mammals against reptiles, including birds, and decided our evolutionary solution is the only one that grants any form of higher function. Yet, it is now blindingly obvious that in the last 300 million years between us and a common ancestor with dinosaurs, we have not left them behind, but convergent evolution has taken place and, removing us from the scale, on balance the dinosaurs have come up with a solution for intelligence that may be better than the mammalian. It's this business of Ravens having the same, or a slightly greater EQ than chimps, yet having 80 times greater density of neurons than us. Pigeons, with "only" six times our density of neurons, can multitask and process information 50% faster than us.
 
Likes: VHS
Oct 2013
4,954
Planet Nine, Oregon
#4
What I like from the second link on spatial intelligence is that it is defined as a "human computational capacity". I think a lot of what we think we know about the brain, any brain, needs re-thinking. We have, naturally, measured every other animal against ourselves, or at least mammals against reptiles, including birds, and decided our evolutionary solution is the only one that grants any form of higher function. Yet, it is now blindingly obvious that in the last 300 million years between us and a common ancestor with dinosaurs, we have not left them behind, but convergent evolution has taken place and, removing us from the scale, on balance the dinosaurs have come up with a solution for intelligence that may be better than the mammalian. It's this business of Ravens having the same, or a slightly greater EQ than chimps, yet having 80 times greater density of neurons than us. Pigeons, with "only" six times our density of neurons, can multitask and process information 50% faster than us.
I agree; flapping alongside ya. :)
 

Corvidius

Ad Honorem
Jul 2017
2,063
Crows nest
#5
I agree; flapping alongside ya. :)
And one day engaging warp drive, who knows....

There's this. While we get closer to knowing what cues birds use to navigate long distances across open ocean, we don't know how this information is processed in their brains and presented to them in a form that says head more right or left. There is an idea that they may see dots in their peripheral vision, though I have never read an explanation as to how this may work. I suggest that if they do see dots, then maybe this acts something like a rangefinder. For instance, if there are two dots, then as the bird moves closer to the required direction of flight, the two dots converge, and when only one dot is seen, then it is on course. If so, this is very clever, but what's impressive is the mental power needed to gather and compute all the information and then present it to the bird in a way that is easy to use with minimal conscious effort, a sort of HUD.
 
Oct 2013
4,954
Planet Nine, Oregon
#6
And one day engaging warp drive, who knows....

There's this. While we get closer to knowing what cues birds use to navigate long distances across open ocean, we don't know how this information is processed in their brains and presented to them in a form that says head more right or left. There is an idea that they may see dots in their peripheral vision, though I have never read an explanation as to how this may work. I suggest that if they do see dots, then maybe this acts something like a rangefinder. For instance, if there are two dots, then as the bird moves closer to the required direction of flight, the two dots converge, and when only one dot is seen, then it is on course. If so, this is very clever, but what's impressive is the mental power needed to gather and compute all the information and then present it to the bird in a way that is easy to use with minimal conscious effort, a sort of HUD.
The dots are from cryptochromes?
https://phys.org/news/2015-02-cryptochrome-protein-birds-magnetic-fields.html
 

Corvidius

Ad Honorem
Jul 2017
2,063
Crows nest
#7
Quite possibly part of the mechanism. I was shying away from mentioning avian use, even if at the subconscious level, of quantum physics. There's another idea that they may see the Earth's gravitational field as colors, or that the field they sense is interpreted and injected into their vision, as another HUD analogy, as color gradations. Then, though not migratory navigation, there's what the brains of owls are doing with sounds, and wing stealth capabilities that make us look like total noobs.
 
Jan 2015
2,951
Rupert's Land ;)
#8
Experiments with New Caledonian crows have shown that they posses cumulative cultural evolution, a way of learning that is thought confined to hominids, though suspected but not, so far, proven in chimps and passerines, corvids being a branch of the passerine family of birds.

Interesting link that explains the concept of cumulative cultural evolution better than me rambling on for several pages. Studying cumulative cultural evolution in the laboratory | Philosophical Transactions of the Royal Society B: Biological Sciences

Article on the BBC explaining, with video, exactly what the experiments were and how they were conducted. https://www.bbc.co.uk/news/science-environment-44654098

In short, eight wild crows, not all from the already known toolmaking clan, were captured and presented with a vending machine. They needed to drop pieces of card into the machine to obtain a reward. After learning this first step, they found that they needed to insert specific sizes of card into the machine to obtain a reward, either large or small and conforming to specific overall size limitations. They were presented with large pieces of card to cut out, using only their beaks of course, large or small pieces of card in order to use in the machine. This is not normal behaviour and is different to them making probes to get grubs out of holes. Here is the full paper published by the researchers from Cambridge University https://www.nature.com/articles/s41598-018-27405-1

What we see here is the crows showing that they can see a problem and have worked out how to solve it, but in so doing have shown that they have the ability to visualize what they need when looking at the machine and then the large sheet of card. Without wishing to go over the top with this, it is a similar cognitive process to that employed by a sculptor when they visualize what the finished work will be in a block of wood or stone. The cumulative aspect comes in with the crows adapting to changes in what is needed and making different sizes of card.

IMO, this shows mental abilities in corvids beyond that of chimps, and that perhaps we are lucky that avian dinosaurs do not have hands with opposable thumbs, as no matter how clever you are, you cannot make a gun with a beak.
I saw another program about crows, that specific knowledge can be passed down to their offspring, very interesting!
 

Corvidius

Ad Honorem
Jul 2017
2,063
Crows nest
#9
I saw another program about crows, that specific knowledge can be passed down to their offspring, very interesting!
I guess about crow parents passing on information about the appearance of the human, John Marzluff, who had ringed them, and so a threat, to their young, so that Marzluff was recognized by crows who had never seen him before, and had been hatched years after their parents had been caught and ringed. More interesting is that while a parent can of course point out to it's young a threat, crows outside the area also knew Marzluff and his students were a threat, without being pointed out to them. How the heck this info is passed is still a total mystery. How do they tell each other about a threat, that for the bird receiving the information cannot see and must need to imagine, to conceptualize, and they get it right. Mind boggling.
 
Oct 2013
4,954
Planet Nine, Oregon
#10
I guess about crow parents passing on information about the appearance of the human, John Marzluff, who had ringed them, and so a threat, to their young, so that Marzluff was recognized by crows who had never seen him before, and had been hatched years after their parents had been caught and ringed. More interesting is that while a parent can of course point out to it's young a threat, crows outside the area also knew Marzluff and his students were a threat, without being pointed out to them. How the heck this info is passed is still a total mystery. How do they tell each other about a threat, that for the bird receiving the information cannot see and must need to imagine, to conceptualize, and they get it right. Mind boggling.
I've suspected there is some mechanism for identification of friendly or unfriendly humans that is communicated to other crows too. Not wanting to invoke Rupert Sheldrake or the 100th corvid effect, or crow magic, but it is weird. I am friends with the crows at work, and it seems like the crows near my house are not afraid of me either --perhaps they are able to discern subtle facial expressions, or they have some kind of specific language with identifiers, or they text each other or something. They do get together in big groups and vocalize a lot --maybe they are saying "hey you know that guy with the chorgi?" "He likes us and feeds us." :cool: