Crows are super smart. Everyone says so. People have made a point of studying crows and they’ve concluded they’re smart because if you give them a short stick, a long stick, string, and an Allen wrench inside a cage, they are able to retrieve the wrench and assemble an IKEA end table, and then they wait around to see if anyone puts some snacks on it. Also, they are able to distinguish between different people and poop on the assholes and leave the regular people alone.
Which is all well and good. I certainly believe crows are smart, but I think most birds are a lot smarter than people give them credit for. A chickadee with a brain the size of a Tic-Tac can keep track of dozens of people, and all kinds of birds can put together an architecturally sound domicile with their face. A particular four-inch-long chickadee of my acquaintance, in fact, learned how to make an entire human come out of a locked house with mealworms. I guess no one has bothered to devise a five-step puzzle for a nuthatch but I think that’s just the old soft bigotry of low expectations, as George W. Bush once read off a teleprompter. And most people assume birds don’t recognize them because most people don’t give birds any thought at all. In fact they don’t recognize birds, but they have no trouble thinking it’s the birds that lack intellect. It’s projection, basically.
Anyway I’m sure my personal crows Dickens and DooDah are as smart as anybody, but I’m not all that certain they’re the smartest birds around. They recognize me and regard me as a reliable source of peanuts in the shell, and they show up when I come outside. But what happens then is revealing. Let’s say Dickens and DooDah are on the telephone wire. I come out and chuck a peanut onto the patio. They seem to brighten up.
“Did you hear that?” Dickens says.
“I did. It sounded like a peanut,” DooDah says.
“Sounded like a peanut to me too. Did you see where it went?”
DooDah moves a little to the right. “I think so. Like, kind of under that chair?”
“You going to get it?”
“I was thinking maybe. You want it?”
“We could go have a look anyway.” Dickens floats down to the patio, followed by DooDah. They edge up near the peanut.
“Like, over here?”
“No, it’s more like under that—”
Suddenly a scrub jay that had been perched on a fir tree three blocks away bombs in like a guided missile, nabs the nut and arrows off in a flash.
“What was that?” DooDah says.
“I think it was an asteroid!”
DooDah shudders. “An asteroid! That’s what took out my great-great-great-great-great-great…”
I chuck out another peanut and another blue rocket whooshes in and disappears it.
“Did you just see another peanut? I thought there was another peanut.” Dickens pokes around.
The scrub jay drills the first and second peanut into the soil. A normal scrub jay will put literally thousands of seeds and acorns in the bank every autumn and remember where each one is that winter, and you don’t know where you left your keys.
“I don’t know, maybe there wasn’t another peanut.”
The crows don’t know where the peanut is. They’re not sure there really was a peanut. They don’t necessarily see what is right in front of them. They tell each other the same old stories. They’ve got nothing in the bank so far and figure if worse comes to worst they can always hit up the Burger King.
They’re exactly as smart as people.
I read your blog early in the morning, but I am glad I held off on commenting. While listening to Wait, Wait, Don’t Tell Me on NPR, one of the stories they mentioned was about crows. A start-up in Sweden is training crows to pick up cigarette butts (which comprise most of the litter in Sweden), deposit the butts in a “vending machine” in exchange for peanuts. The machine has a “butt recognition system” because apparently crows aren’t above tossing random things in there for the peanuts. I looked it up on Google. Here’s the link to the story: https://www.dailyo.in/variety/sweden-crows-trained-to-pick-up-cigarette-butts/story/1/35319.html
I think I heard about that. It’s a great idea. I also have a butt recognition system.
I look forward to hearing that the trained crows are grabbing lit ciggies from people’s mouths — though that does seem more like something a trained seagull would do.
I could SO imagine a crow doing that, sticking it in the corner of his beak, and telling the guy, “What are YOU lookin’ at, bub?”
I saw that crow/cigarette butts story too. And wondered how long it would take them before they realised the potential to discard any old rubbish.
Bird brained? How I wish that some of the people who toss around that phrase were…
The more you find out, the more you realize you are observed all the time, and judged, and found wanting, probably. This is why I bribe.
I’ve been tossing out peanuts for my crows, but a friend told me to stop because the crows will eat birds’ eggs in the nests and also the baby birds. Has anyone had this happen?
Crows will eat baby birds and eggs. So will a lot of other birds. This is why birds are clever about nest sites. Everybody’s got to eat, and I say, give your crows peanuts. It’s not going to increase the number of crows you have. I don’t tend to take any of this personally, except when it involves my own personal birds. Such as when a scrub jay made off with one of my baby nuthatches on its maiden flight. I haven’t really been as fond of scrub jays since, but that’s just me being emotional.
I no longer even mind the hawks, as they pass through and snatch a bird (usually a dove.) I shrug and say “bird’s gotta eat.” They are carnivorous; it’s not like it’s a choice for them. It’s eat meat or die. I figure, too, that the smarter doves are the ones that will survive. Of course, with doves, it’s rather a low bar to limbo under…..
Well, I shall continue to feed them peanuts, although sometimes the squirrels get to them first. I’ll just ask them to leave the baby bluebirds alone.
The baby bluebirds are in boxes on posts, right? They should be okay if a snake doesn’t get ’em.
Yes, boxes on posts. Once we put one on the back of the mailbox post and a snake got all the babies. No more boxes there now.
My neighbors had tall evergreens from which a baby crow flew out and landed in our yard. My dog brought me the bird, unharmed. It could not fly, but I leaned a ladder against the fence and it hopped up to the top, then flew away. My scary black dog calmly walks through flocks of ducks or geese, but always plays “flinch” with the crows, then smiles after they fly away.
Baby crows are always on the ground for a few days after leaving (plummeting from?) the nest. They’re not airworthy for a bit of time and the parents and some attendant teenage helpers are always nearby protecting them until they can fly. They’re real good at it. You have a crow dive-bombing your head, you get out of the way.
I miss “my” crows that used to come down for the mealworms I threw out on the grass, I miss the magpies too that used to come down before the crows shooed them off. The birds are still around, but the crow seems to be on his own these days and I talk to him and to the magpies still, but they don’t come down anymore. Meanwhile the blackbirds and doves have been eating the mealworms along with rolled oats that my upstairs neighbour throws down and they are getting too fat! So I’m going to stop the mealworms for a while.
I’m not sure I have seen a too-fat bird except the ones that are supposed to be! I have definitely seen too-skinny birds. My goodness but Studley was a little wire after nesting season.
We had a family of crows for several years that ate our edible table leavings. My husband called them “The Boys”, and they waited in the cedar tree outside to hear his voice. We only live there for half the year now, so we told The Boys they needed to find another food source. Apparently they understood us, because they’re not around any more.
Jeez. It’s bad enough we can’t go to restaurants anymore–now the crows’ favorite hotspots are shutting down too!
Jays don’t remember where every nut is buried — trees grow from the acorns they don’t remember the whereabouts of. On a tangential topic (a high school English teacher of mine actually said “tangenital” while talking to our class, and when I looked around I was amazed to see that nobody in class gave any sign of having noticed — that was the same English teacher who once said “Now any writer who’s worth his weight in salt…” and again, nobody laughed but me— either everybody had perfect poker faces or I was the only one listening) — but I digress from my digression — somebody seriously studied the now-where-did-I-put-that-nut behavior of squirrels (sorry, can’t recall where it was done or what nut was used or which species of squirrel was involved) by making a thousand or so transmitters disguised as nuts so their whereabouts could be determined for sure. Many nuts were found to have been abandoned, though I can’t recall how many. Or maybe the squirrels figured out that they couldn’t eat a transmitter.
I tell people that most of the numerous trees in our yard were planted by squirrels. People don’t know this — but squirrels are avid gardeners! Not only do they plant trees, but they prune our dogwoods and birches (whether they need it or not), and aerate the soil in the houseplants when we put them on the deck. Ours even wear little tool belts with gardening tools in them! Would I lie about that?
They are also electricians. Or in cahoots with them.
If they were really smart, they would frequent the local crow bar and eat free peanuts.
PS Your photographs are lovely. And they ain’t all from Florida. Are you related to the Portland Berthelsdorfs?
I read that in my head in my best Heckle and Jeckle voices.
Middle person. Now living in McMinnville, where most all of the photos were (and are) taken. I miss your hand drawn cards!
And thanks for the complement! I checked the save name box but it must have heard of me & I was rejected.
All of our Wild Birds are smarter than most people…