Masterminds of the Sky: The Remarkable Intelligence of Crows

on Apr 19, 2023
Add New Post

Crows, members of the Corvidae family, have long been recognized for their remarkable cognitive abilities. These fascinating birds demonstrate problem-solving skills, self-awareness, and even a rudimentary understanding of cause and effect, rivaling that of many mammals, including primates. 1

Unfortunately, crows are often misunderstood due to their carrion-eating habits and their portrayal as sinister creatures in movies and literature.

This article aims to explore the extent of crow intelligence and the factors that have contributed to the development of these impressive cognitive abilities, shedding light on the true nature of these remarkable birds.

The Evolution of Intelligence in Crows

The cognitive abilities of crows can be attributed to their large brain size relative to their body size. The crow's encephalization quotient (EQ), a measure of brain size relative to body mass, is among the highest of all bird species, comparable to some mammals.2 This increased brain size has allowed for the development of complex neural networks, which are crucial for advanced cognitive functioning.3

Problem-solving and Tool Use

Crows have displayed exceptional problem-solving skills and the ability to use tools. One of the most famous examples is the New Caledonian crow, which has been observed using sticks to extract insects from tree bark.4

Research has also shown that crows can understand water displacement and use this knowledge to raise the water level in a container to obtain a floating food item. 5

Memory and Spatial Awareness

Crows possess an excellent memory, which allows them to remember specific locations and landmarks. This skill is particularly useful for food caching, as crows often hide food in multiple locations and retrieve it later.6 Crows have also been observed using their memory to recognize individual human faces, enabling them to differentiate between potential threats and friendly encounters.7

Social Learning and Culture

Crows exhibit social learning, a form of intelligence that involves learning from the experiences of other individuals within their social group. This ability allows crows to transmit information and learned behaviors across generations, creating a form of culture. For example, researchers observed that crows in one region learned to use traffic to crack open nuts by dropping them onto busy roads, a behavior that was then passed on to younger generations.9

Self-awareness and Theory of Mind

Crows possess a level of self-awareness, as demonstrated by their ability to recognize their reflection in a mirror, a feat achieved by only a select few species.10 Moreover, crows have demonstrated an understanding of the mental states of others, suggesting they may possess a rudimentary theory of mind.11 This has been shown through experiments where crows attempted to deceive other crows by hiding food caches when observed, indicating an understanding that other individuals have their own perspectives and desires. 12


The intelligence of crows continues to captivate researchers and enthusiasts alike. Their remarkable cognitive abilities, including problem-solving, memory, social learning, and self-awareness, have earned them a place among the most intelligent creatures on Earth. As research into crow intelligence progresses, we may continue to uncover more fascinating insights into the workings of these avian minds.


  1. Emery, N. J. (2004). Are corvids “feathered apes”? Cognitive evolution in crows, jays, rooks and jackdaws. In Comparative analysis of minds (pp. 181-213). Keio University Press.
  2. Olkowicz, S., Kocourek, M., Lučan, R. K., Porteš, M., Fitch, W. T., Herculano-Houzel, S., & Němec, P. (2016). Birds have primate-like numbers of neuronsin the forebrain. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, 113(26), 7255-7260.
  3. Güntürkün, O. (2005). The avian 'prefrontal cortex' and cognition. Current Opinion in Neurobiology, 15(6), 686-693.
  4. Hunt, G. R., & Gray, R. D. (2004). Direct observations of pandanus-tool manufacture and use by a New Caledonian crow (Corvus moneduloides). Animal Cognition, 7(2), 114-120.
  5. Jelbert, S. A., Taylor, A. H., Cheke, L. G., Clayton, N. S., & Gray, R. D. (2014). Using the Aesop's Fable paradigm to investigate causal understanding of water displacement by New Caledonian crows. PLoS ONE, 9(3), e92895.
  6. Vander Wall, S. B. (1990). Food Hoarding in Animals. University of Chicago Press.
  7. Marzluff, J. M., Walls, J., Cornell, H. N., Withey, J. C., & Craig, D. P. (2010). Lasting recognition of threatening people by wild American crows. Animal Behaviour, 79(3), 699-707.
  8. Lefebvre, L., Whittle, P., Lascaris, E., & Finkelstein, A. (1997). Feeding innovations and forebrain size in birds. Animal Behaviour, 53(3), 549-560.
  9. Kenward, B., Weir, A. A., Rutz, C., & Kacelnik, A. (2005). Tool manufacture by naive juvenile crows. Nature, 433(7022), 121.
  10. Prior, H., Schwarz, A., & Güntürkün, O. (2008). Mirror-induced behavior in the magpie (Pica pica): Evidence of self-recognition. PLoS Biology, 6(8), e202.
  11. Emery, N. J., & Clayton, N. S. (2001). Effects of experience and social context on prospective caching strategies by scrub jays. Nature, 414(6862), 443-446.
  12. Bugnyar, T., & Heinrich, B. (2005). Ravens, Corvus corax, differentiate between knowledgeable and ignorant competitors. Proceedings of the Royal Society B: Biological Sciences, 272(1573), 1641-1646.