Researchers have found that crows may possess mental capabilities that some animal behavior experts did not think were possible.
In a 2018 paper published in the journal Scientific Reports, a team of researchers showed evidence that New Caledonian crows, which have been observed making several types of tools out of sticks, may be able to build tools from memory — even if they have only seen the tool itself and haven’t ever seen the tool being constructed. This suggests that crows can form a “mental template” of tools based on other crows’ tools and their own past tools, which would explain why New Caledonian crows’ tools could have improved over time.
Researchers trained New Caledonian crows to put pieces of paper into a slot to receive a food reward. But the catch was that only certain sized pieces of paper earned a reward. Once the crows were trained, they were then given a larger piece of paper, which they had to tear into either a large or small size in order to complete the task. The researchers explain that they had the crows use paper instead of sticks or leaves so they could observe the birds’ learning in action.
Their results suggest that crows can produce the proper tool from their memory, even though the task was new to them. This indicates that crows can learn from each other, even improving upon others’ designs, which has big implications for our understanding of crow culture and animal intelligence overall and how these fascinating birds got so amazingly good at foraging for food with tools. It’s something to crow about all right.