Animal intelligence can be extremely difficult to measure, but some birds show signs of exceptional brainpower that are seemingly obvious to any birdwatcher.
As humans cannot assess animal intelligence in the same way as we assess our own, there are several indicators that signify high IQ in an animal. Brain structure, tool use, and mathematical ability all point towards brightness, and some birds have all of these skills and more.
The term ‘bird brain’ is no longer an insult as it’s been discovered that in terms of intelligence we’re not as far ahead as we once thought.
Crows and their relatives may be the smartest birds on Earth, and show behaviour that is comparable to great apes. Not only can members of the crow family recognise themselves in a mirror, but they can manufacture tools from simple objects around them to make life easier. Crows even seem to understand complex concepts like water displacement, as they can have been witnessed throwing stones in water to make the level rise.
These brainy birds are fast learners and figure out complex tasks without even pausing for thought. Crows form long-term memories and social bonds, and their brains have enlarged brain areas that are associated with intelligence in mammals.
1. Crows have human-like memory
Crows show evidence of memory of specific events and situations, and can remember the location of hidden food for six months. After caching food, crows remember the exact location, how deep they bury the item and they wait until others aren’t watching before they start.
2. Making their own tools
Crows make hooks by sculpting twigs and use these to extract insect larvae from trees. In a study where crows were given straight wires to remove a small bucket, 85 per-cent of crows bent the wire into a hook instantly and 60 per-cent completed the task on the first try.
3. Crow brains outweigh human brains
In relation to its body size, a crow’s brain is as big as a chimp’s. The brain of a crow accounts for three per-cent of its entire body weight, which is a higher percentage than the human brain contributes to overall body weight.
4. Crows can plan ahead
Crows don’t mind waiting for a reward, and in tasks where they were given bread after being shown tastier treats they returned the bread to the researchers in exchange for something better. The crows waited patiently for five minutes before being treated to a high value food.
5. Complex social interactions
Crows show advanced social behaviour from following another’s gaze to using deception. When hiding food, crows can judge whether they are being watched and are known to sneak away with food while others are still searching for it.
6. Crows learn by watching
In the 1990s crows in Japan learned to drop nuts in front of cars to crack them open, then collect the nuts when traffic stopped for pedestrians. Within 10 years, the same behaviour was seen in crows on the opposite side of the globe in California