Crows Solve Puzzles On Par With 7-Year-Olds

Crows are well known for their intelligence, and their cleverness was recognized centuries ago in Aesopís tale of “The Crow and the Pitcher.”

In the Greek fable, a thirsty crow drops stones into a pitcher to raise the level of water so he can drink.

Now research proves that such a task isn’t just the stuff of stories.

A species of crow native to New Caledonia, an island off the coast of Australia, can solve such a puzzle. And the birds can do it as well as a 7-year-old human child.

For the study, scientists captured six of the crows, which are known for being the only non-primate that makes†tools in the wild. New Caledonian crows often break off twigs or collect barbed leaves and use the objects as hooks to dig for insects.

Scientists trained the birds to pick up stones and then challenged them with different Aesop-inspired puzzles. In the challenges, cubes of meat attached to corks were placed in transparent tubes that were too deep for the crows to reach.

In one set-up, the crows were provided with two tubes: one partly filled with sand and another partly filled with water.

For the most part, the birds didn’t bother with the tube of sand. Seventy-six percent of their efforts were focused on the water-filled tube.

When given a choice to drop sinking rubber objects or floating polystyrene objects, the crows opted for rubber 90 percent of the time.

However, they performed slightly less well when presented with a narrow tube and a wide tube of equal heights. The crows tended to opt to drop objects into the wide tube, which is less efficient although still effective.

Researchers say the birds’ understanding of water displacement is comparable to that of a 5-year-old to 7-year-old child.

Also impressive is that the crows seemed to understand the difference in how hollow objects and solid objects affect water levels.

Although the birds failed at another challenge, scientists say their failure is still quite revealing.

In this task, there were three tubes. One held a floating cube of meat, one was connected to this first tube under the table, and the third tube was unconnected.

To complete the task and reap the meaty reward, the crows had to drop stones into the second tube to raise the water level in the connected tube that contained the treat. But the birds picked the connected tube and the unconnected tube an equal number of times.

Children are able to solve this problem around the age of 8.

However, the crows’ failure to complete this task while being successful at the others hints that they were using causal understanding.

“They found the arbitrary task (dropping stones into an unconnected tube) counterintuitive,” Amanda Seed, an expert on animal learning at the University of St. Andrews, told Reuters. This suggests “they formed a representation not only of what works, such as solid objects, but also why ó that they displace the water level.”

Main Photo Credit:†An American crow (Photo:†macinate/flickr)


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Carrie-Anne Brown

thanks for sharing :)

Janice Thompson
Janice Thompson3 years ago

And what did they really learn. Scientists will try anything. I wonder if they were government subsidized.

Rhonda B.
Rhonda B3 years ago

Thank you for sharing.

june t.
june t3 years ago

I admire crows but I hate that caw caw sound, especially at 5:00 in the morning outside my window. Go away noisy crows!

Carole H.
Carole H3 years ago

I think it will be found there is a lot more intelligence pervading the natural world than we in our arrogance as humans have ever dreamed of - at least that is what I like to believe and by observation of all sorts of creatures think there is sufficient evidence for optimism.

Rasma Raisters
Rasma Raisters3 years ago

We have the most intelligent crows in our garden in Riga, Latvia. They know we leave food for them on the garage roof. When that food is gone they swoop around and caw drawing our attention. Soon there is more food and they can feast. They also come to look into our kitchen windows to see if we are around so they know if they can expect a treat or not. They do drive out cat Sid nuts with ever caw but I secretly think that they laugh every time he tries to climb a tree because they wait until he's close and then caw, caw, caw or ha, ha, ha they fly away.

Michaela Carlsson

Crows are intelligent and have been very useful to the humans in the future but I guess today they just watch and shake their heads when they look at us...

Summerannie Moon
Summerannie M3 years ago

Yaaaaay Christie! Gooooo ducks! How cool is that story. I'm sure if you use a different approach to your dog he/ she would get it as what to do. Like if you said, Look, Max, point.....toss the ball and he would understand. Teaching this way then with out a ball and use a single word while pointing and looking in that direction and telling him to do it, over and over again but giving him a reward tidbit for being correct, can work. Goo ducks. im amazed at how clever animals are at using their eyes and body language to communicate. Patience is a virtue.

do a Google search about this awesome dog. You will watch with your mouth and eyes wide open. Promise.

Search.......In YouTube and

Jumpy the amazing dogs tricks

jumpy can do absolutely anything. He has a dog trainer as his dad but thus dog just loves doing stuff. Check him out skate boarding. Amazing. Doing foot dances if you like. He thrives on direction. Please look. I've save the videos. I think his "Dad's" name is Omar. He's a dog trainer. Awesome, I promise you that treat.

Christie C.
Christie C3 years ago

It always amazes me every time I tell one of our ducks to do something and they do it. They are definitely good problem solvers and respond to rewards quickly. I have never been able to teach a dog to look where I am pointing instead of at my finger, but the ducks picked that up right away. I've taught them a lot of words and rules and I've learned some of theirs. But they still have their silly duck moments. Just today our mama hen found her way into a blocked off area of the garden, but couldn't find her way out. Daddy duck called for me to come out and assist, lol.

Katherine May Williams

Go crows! :-)