Crows Do It Again

New Caledonian crows prove capable of yet another cognitive feat—inferring the actions of hidden people.

By | September 18, 2012

A New Caledonian crows uses a pandanus tool. Image courtesy of Mick Sibley.

Already famous for their impressive problem solving skills, New Caledonian crows can now add logical inference to their repertoire. Alex Taylor of the University of Auckland in New Zealand placed a box with food near a hanging blue sheet, behind which someone could hide. A stick protruded from the sheet. Crows watched as people walked behind the sheet, then saw the stick move, and finally saw the people leave.

This seemed to make sense to them. But if they saw the stick and box move without observing someone enter and exit the hideaway, the crows became more cautious, exploring the blue sheet instead of probing the box for food. (See a video of this behavior at ScienceNOW.) According to the researchers, the crows had likely inferred that if the stick was capable of moving, and no human left, maybe it could still move.

“We show that tool-making New Caledonian crows react differently to an observable event when it is caused by a hidden causal agent” than by an agent that could be seen or infered, the authors wrote in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, where they published their results yesterday (September 17). “This difference shows that the crows can reason about a hidden causal agent”—a cognitive ability previously only attributed to humans.


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September 18, 2012

I have always maintained the thought that animals (in certain ways) are much smarter and nicer than Humans.

Avatar of: RichardPatrock


Posts: 52

September 18, 2012

Well, perhaps they realized that they hadn't been paying close enough attention and missed out on who in and out. Is cognition in this case driven by caution?

Avatar of: Paula


Posts: 1

September 20, 2012

Humans always glorified themselves and thought to be more intelligemt than anything else- the basic example is a story that is claiming humans come from god and are made on his image. Big ego huh? We don't really know how intellogent or capable other species really are...

Avatar of: Sam Kay

Sam Kay

Posts: 1457

September 20, 2012

"'This difference shows that the crows can reason about a hidden causal agent'—a cognitive ability previously only attributed to humans." What about other intelligent animals, such as great apes, dogs, or dolphins? I would be surprised if they lack this ability.

Avatar of: Courtney Dimler

Courtney Dimler

Posts: 1457

September 20, 2012

This makes sense. It is probably a valuable survival trait to be able to figure out if there is a hidden predator nearby.

Avatar of: Julie Peck

Julie Peck

Posts: 1457

September 20, 2012

I'm not sure about the nicer part but I agree they are much smarter than most people give them credit for.

Avatar of: envisionthis


Posts: 1

September 22, 2012

Perhaps its our own arrogance that put deemed us the sharpest tool in the shed. Based on the behavior of our politicians and corporations in relation to what we do to the planet, and the general public's stupidity in doing anything about it and instead being mesmerized by the antics of these fools, I'd say at best we rank dead last of the most intelligent species scale.

Avatar of: Roy Niles

Roy Niles

Posts: 113

December 26, 2012

"According to the researchers, the crows had likely inferred that if the stick was capable of moving, and no human left, maybe it could still move."

No, the crows likely suspected that a predator of some sort could be hiding and attempting, deceptively, to get them within range of an attack.  Animals and other of life's creatures have been suspicious of anything that signals the possble presence of a deceptive predator since behavioral strategies for life's survival had begun to evolve.  Suspicion of such predatory dangers has become part of all our necessary biological functions.

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