What Do Elephants and Crows Have in Common?

They both never forget.

New research has determined that crows will remember distinct human faces for five years or more, especially if it’s the face of a human who has threatened or attacked them. It isn’t just the victimized crow who holds a grudge, either. Other crows in the area will learn to be wary of the dangerous human even if they weren’t personally harmed.

Discovery News reports on the findings, which appeared in a recent issue of the Proceedings of the Royal Society B. Study co-author John Marzluff and his colleagues bagged, tagged and released between 7 and 15 wild crows at different research sites around Seattle. The team did this while wearing special masks. Upon release, the individual crows immediately began making harsh, agitated cries, commonly known as “scolds.”

The scolding “attract[s] other crows who are nearby to join in the mob,” Marzluff, a professor at the University of Washington’s School of Forest Resources, told Discovery News. “The mob of 2 to 15 birds hounds us, sometimes diving from the sky to within a few meters or less — this pursuit lasts about 100 meters (328 feet) as we walk away.”

Later, the team traveled to different areas and donned the same masks. They soon found themselves surrounded by scolding crows — but not the same crows originally captured. This suggests that the big, black birds learn from social interaction and association, not just direct experience. Marzluff and his colleagues were even scolded by crows a mile away from the original site.

If a crow survives to adulthood, it can live between 15 and 40 years in the wild. From the evidence gathered by Marzluff and his team, it’s likely that they remember such strong associations for their whole life.

At the very least, the study “shows the memory lasts at least five years and counting,” Marzluff told Discovery News. He emphasized that crows are notoriously smart birds. “Others have shown that some crows make and use tools, forecast future events [and] understand what other animals know. These are all advanced cognitive tasks shown by only a few animals.”

“In our case [we know that they] learn from individual experience as well as by observing parents and peers,” he added.

So the next time you think about bothering a crow, don’t forget this study — after all, the crows certainly won’t!


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Photo credit: malfet_


Summerannie Moon
Summerannie M.3 years ago

Very interesting. I remember having a verbal conversation with a crow. It was the crow who flew from a wire fence to 2 ft in front of me. He did a crow call and I answered him. I wasnt scared at all b/c they can be quite dangerous. Anyway, the post man was delivering mail to the back of a house and I needed to speak to him. So I said to the crow, he was so beautiful and shiny and hadnt seen a crow so close. I asked him if he could go and fly up to a certain tree some 50 -60 ft away and sit if he could at the top so he could let me know if the postman was coming out and whaaaaaaak to me and be excited. Seriously I did..mad yeah I know but I have been called a child whisperer and an animal whisperer and its worked. Anyway I chatted a bit more and the crow cocked his head left and right, a sign that it was listening, What happened next still makes me gasp. The crow having listened to the instructions flew..yep flew to the tree I had suggest it to land, I waited for about 2 mins or so and all of a sudden this crow whaaaaaaarked and whaaarkedb and jumped up and down on the tip of the tree. The crow was swinging around 6ft to each side. I was amazed and it continued to wharrrk... and then after a few seconds of it wharrking, the postman appeared,
An amazing encounter but the birds in the street where I used to live always came for a visit so maybe those birds told other birds, I was a pretty good ' chick' :-)

True story.

Veronique L.
Veronique L.4 years ago

There are very interesting stories about crows....

Tricia Hamilton
Tricia Hamilton4 years ago

We don't have that many animals left, they can at least eat our garbage. WTF?

Terry V.
Terry V.4 years ago

and the elephants???????????????????????????

Muriel Servaege
Muriel Servaege4 years ago

Thank you for the article, though I knew crows are smart. I find them fascinating in their way.
What did you want to say about elephants?

Martha Eberle
Martha Eberle5 years ago

I have heard crows are smart -- I just adore learning these interesting new things. thank you, Care2

KrassiAWAY B.
Krasimira B.5 years ago

Crows are smart.

Lika S.
Lika S.5 years ago

Who would want to hurt a crow anyway? I think their raven black feathers are most beautiful.

Why anyone abuses ANY being, I will never understand...

monica r.
monica r.5 years ago

I heard of crows going to ice fishing holes and pulling up the line, then eating either the bait or the catch.

I love crows, and chickens also. Ok, and gulls, too.

James R. Stewart Jr.

But you didn't say anything specific about Elephants !!!