Gallery E

Bird Brains

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The Smart Analytical Thinking Of Crows

By James Donahue

A new study titled "Crows Spontaneously Exhibit Analogical Reasoning" published in Current Biology expresses surprise by Russian and American researchers involved in a cooperative testing of crows.

The research done at the Biology Department for Lomonosov Moscow State University in Russia, with support by Psychology Professor Ed Wasserman at the University of Iowa, noted that in a controlled study, where crows were rewarded with food by choosing the correct card, the birds always picked the right card without advanced training.

Prior to this study, researchers believed that only humans and apes were capable of achieving this degree of intelligence, and the apes required training before they could pick the correct card.

Anthony Wright, Neurobiology and anatomy professor at the University of Texas-Houston Medical School, noted that the "apparent spontaneity of this finding makes it all the more remarkable. We have always sold animals short." Wright noted that humans think of themselves as superior to the animals, not considering that they think in the ways that humans do.

The findings should not be a surprise to many animal and pet lovers who deal with the intelligence of household cats and dogs daily. We have a cat at our house that appears to clearly understand things we say to it, or ask it to do. This animal also knows how to tease and play tricks on us, which strongly suggests a sense of humor.

A few days ago this cat began putting up a fuss and I was unable to determine what the problem was. I had filled up the cat’s food bowl, filled its water bowl and opened the cat door to allow access to leave the house. These are how we meet its daily needs. I was perplexed until my daughter determined that the cat wanted special distilled drinking water like the kind we were drinking, instead of the tap water we were giving it. Once we changed the water, the cat was content. This animal noticed that it was not getting the same water that we were using and wanted equality. It obviously doesn’t like the taste of fluoride any more than we do. Imagine that if you will.

When I was a young boy growing up in Michigan, my father kept a large garden in a field directly behind our house. One spring when Dad was planting his seeds, he noticed a crow following him down the open row, eating the seeds. Dad of course chased the bird away and replanted his row, this time covering the seeds as fast as he put them in the row. The bird began digging up the seeds. Thus began Dad’s personal melee against that "pesky" crow.

Dad tried every trick he could think of, but the crow seemed to always be one step behind him. He even put up a scarecrow, which the crow found to be a good place to sit and stare down at my father while he worked in his garden.

I am happy to say that my father was never a hunter and he never owned a shotgun. Had we had a gun in the house that season, I think my father might have considered shooting that crow.

My parents slept in a rear bedroom on the second floor that looked down over the garden. After the war with the crow went on for several days, my father was dismayed one morning to find the crow standing on the window frame, staring in through the window at him. Looking back at it now, I realize the sheer intelligence that was being exhibited by that crow and find much humor in the way it was teasing my father. At the time, my father didn’t see much humor in it at all.

My mother couldn’t stop laughing.