Crows and Their Tools

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Need a fix-it person around the house? Why not bring home a crow instead? BBC News reports on a University of Auckland study that highlights the tool-adapting and tool-using ability of New Caledonian crows. (We previously reported on these clever “MacGyvers.”).

In particular, these crows have been found to “use separate tools in quick succession” to successfully obtain snacks. The crows were faced with a scrap of meat tucked “out of reach” in a box, a small twig too short to reach the food, and a long twig locked “well out of bill-grabbing range” in yet another box. The crows creatively used the short twig to retrieve the long twig out of its box, then used the long twig to obtain the meat. “What is most amazing is that most of them did this on the first trial. The first time we gave them the problem, six out of seven tried to do the right thing,” explains Russell Gray, a coauthor on the Current Biology paper covering the experiment.

Gray goes on to describe how the crows’ thinking in this regard resembles that of humans and, possibly (he notes), apes. “The birds were making an analogy: instead of using a tool to get food they used the tool to get another tool to get the food,” Gray said.

(A video of the experiment is available on the BBC website or through YouTube.)

Experiments such as this that highlight intelligence in animals other than apes serve two important purposes: first, they teach us more about God’s wonderful creation and, in this case, crow intelligence. Second, they remind us that despite evolutionary expectations, chimpanzees, apes, and other advanced mammals are not alone in their high levels of intelligence and tool-using abilities.

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