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15 Ways Crows Will Blow Your Mind

Crows are part of a diverse family of songbirds that includes: ravens, jays, magpies, rooks and jackdaws. And did I mention they're all seriously smart?

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1. Like people, there are famous crows. The most famous is Betty, the tool-making New Caledonian Crow.

View this video on YouTube

youtube.com / Via Youtube

When presented a bucket of food and a straight wire, Betty fashioned herself a hook to pull the food out of the tube. For reference, you probably couldn't have solved that problem until you were three. New Caledonian Crows are known for their ape-like tool making and have gone on to show they can solve multi-step problems. http://youtube.com/watch?v=UDg0AKfM8EY

2. They play.

View this video on YouTube

Via youtube.com

For many animals, play as juveniles is a common and important way to practice key life skills. Videos of snowboarding, wind-surfing, and barrel-rolling adult corvids suggest that for them, however, play may be something that is done throughout life simply for fun. There have even been stories of pet crows dragging a string for the pet cat. How they actually feel during these moments remains mysterious, but it looks to us like they are having a lot of fun.

http://youtube.com/watch?v=tUBMSnHH7hc

3. They can count.

Wikipedia / Via en.wikipedia.org

Adam Duritz was right: corvids have impressive quantitative skills. When shown food being hidden under five boxes and then mixed up with empty ones, Western Jackdaws will only turn over the number of boxes necessary to find all five pieces.

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4. Crows love MacDonalds as much as you do.

Cedric Crawford / Via cedriccrawford.com

University of Washington crow expert, John Marzluff, discovered with the help of his daughter that when simultaneously provided a choice between french fries offered in a plain bag and a MacDonalds bag, crows consistently choose the fries in the MacDonalds bag. I mean, who can blame them...

5. If you're nice, they might bring you a present.

Via courses.washington.edu

People from across the country have sent crow expert, John Marzluff, emails explaining that a neighborhood crow has left them a present. Usually this is preceded by a kind deed such as providing food. Sometimes these gifts only happen once, but some have even reported regular gifts, things like bottle caps, pine cones, and for one Washington man, a purple candy heart with the word "Love".

6. Are you talking to me? Yes.

View this video on YouTube

Via YouTube

Lots of corvid species can be trained to talk and are generally impressive mimics. In the 1950s crows were popular pets and it was a common myth that you had to fork their tongue for them to be able to talk, which is of course nonsense. (For any West Coast beer aficionados, this is a myth started by none other than Pliny the Elder.)

7. Oh, and they use that talent for evil.

A presumably escaped pet crow in Montana used the phrase "Here boy, come boy" to round up a pack of neighborhood dogs, which it then set loose on the campus of the University of Montana.

8. They won't work for free.

Via plosone.org

Researchers from the University of Vienna showed that captive crows and ravens previously trained to exchange a token for food would stop doing so if they saw their partner received better food for the same task. They also stopped if their partner was given food without having to perform a task. While there's as yet no evidence of unionizing, the researchers have readied their lawyers.

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9. Their brains grow seasonally.

Flickr: alanvernon / Via Alan Vernon

Clark's nutcrackers are known for their ability to store and recover 1000's of seeds with nearly perfect accuracy. To prepare for this feat, the part of their brain responsible for memory, the hippocampus, actually increases in volume to cope with the mental load. They can also carry up to 90 seeds in a special pouch under their tongue.

10. They make their own bug repellent.

View this video on YouTube

Via Youtube

If you've ever had the unfortunate experience of squishing an ant, you'll know they release a stink hideous enough to drive even the most persistent proselytizer away. Crows are known to sit on ant hills and rub crushed ants over their feathers, releasing the formic acid which helps keep bugs and parasites away.

11. They have sleepovers and share the news of the day.

Kelly Brenner / Via metrofieldguide.com

Crow have nightly roosts that can host tens to hundreds of thousands of birds. Roosting helps with safety and provides warmth, but it also may be a way to share information. For Ravens, roosts provide an important way for the finders of food bonanzas to share this information with others (which they do through aerial dances). While this is not known to be true for crows, it's an area of increasing study.

12. They're watching you and telling their friends.

Via livescience.com

University of Washington researchers showed that crows learn and remember the faces of people who harmed them, and go on to share this information with friends and offspring. Eight years later, the birds still respond to the faces, even though they've only seen them once a year. People who feed crows have also reported strong bonds with wild birds, so much so that a Seattle woman nearly lost her job as a bus driver after crows would not stop following her bus.

13. They are loving partners...

Mark / Via pentaxforums.com

Crows are socially monogamous and stay with their mates year round. They're described as "socially monogamous" because even though they mate for life, they are known to get a little somethin' somethin' one the side, which means they are not necessarily genetically monogamous. Allopreening, as seen here in these Australian Ravens, is an important form of touch they use to strengthen bonds.

14. ...And parents.

Via spokesman.com

In the summer, crow chicks leave the nest before they are completely flighted, making them vulnerable to predators. During this period their parents bring them food and fend off potential predators, including unsuspecting pedestrians. Offspring will sometimes remain with the parents for a year or more, helping to raise their new siblings the following summer.

15. They have funerals.

buzzfeed.com

Crows have been observed to hold "funerals" following the discovery of dead crows, where they gather and vocalize before leaving the scene. Some research has already been on Scrub Jays, but University of Washington researchers are trying to further understand this behavior in crows by both recreating funerals in the wild and monitoring the brains of crows as they participate. To learn more about this research and help them generate critical research funds please visit their crow(d)-funding page at Experiment.com

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