Crow the Builder

on August 8, 2009
Featured in News to Know

PhysOrg: “Crows Can Use ‘Up to Three Tools’They’re the incredibly intelligent, tool-wielding animals we’ve covered frequently in the past. No, not chimps; we’re talking about crows once again.

Crow intelligence has become one of our favorite pet topics in News to Note (see previous coverage, for example, from May). The otherwise pesky birds seem to have a natural knack at figuring out puzzles and using tools to their advantage, exceeding even the skill of apes at times.

The crows were not trained for sequential tool use but rather determined what to do on their own.

Experiments on crows performed at Oxford University reinforce our view. Seven New Caledonian crows were presented with a series of tests that forced them to not only use tools, but to use up to three different tools in a specific sequence in order to obtain food. What’s more amazing is that of the seven crows, four of them used tools in a sequence successfully from their very first attempt.

In the most challenging experiment, the crows were faced with food that was deep inside a tube—too far to reach without tools. However, the tool long enough to retrieve the food was out of reach itself, as was the tool required to retrieve that tool. Thus, the birds had to begin with the available shortest tool and use it to retrieve the middle-length tool; then use the middle-length tool to retrieve the longest tool; and finally use the longest tool to extract the food.

What set this study apart from previous experiments on crows and apes is that the crows were not trained for sequential tool use but rather determined what to do on their own. The researchers also concluded that the crows did not switch tools at random; they generally switched from shorter to longer tools. Nonetheless, the scientists were cautious not to overstate how much humans know of crows’ true intelligence. They noted that the tool use does not necessarily imply that the crows have reasoning or planning abilities, nor would it have required “high-level mental faculties.”

The Times reports another recent examination of crow intelligence. Scientists at Cambridge University tested the ability of rooks (a type of crow) to raise the water level in a tube by dropping stones into the water. Floating on the water was a treat available only if the water level was raised. Not only did the rooks successfully complete the test, but the Daily Mailreports that, when presented with stones of different sizes, the rooks quickly learned to use the larger stones first to raise the water level more quickly.

For creationists, the news reminds us both that God made a broad range of very capable, intelligent animals (not just apes!) and also that man is nevertheless uniquely created “in the image of God” (Genesis 1:27).

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