Forget Robot Overlords. These Birds Are Getting Smarter

Image: Richard Bartz/Wikimedia Commons

Scientists have long known that crows are exceedingly intelligent animals, but new evidence shows they may be getting smarter and evolving right before our eyes.

Researchers at University of St. Andrews and University in Edinburgh in the UK tested a group of New Caledonian crows on their ability to make and use tools to acquire food.

They found that the crows use small tools made of twigs and leaf stems to pry insects and spiders from holes in branches. Some crows, they observed, made themselves tools with a hooked end. Those crows were up to 13 times more successful at finding dinner.

It’s evidence of Darwinism at work: crows will often transport, store, and re-use these hooked tools, and crows that eat better have higher rates of survival and reproduction. Scientists hypothesize that the smarter crows are the ones making hooked tools, and the ones most likely to pass down their smarty-pants genes.

There is evidence suggesting that corvids, the family of birds that includes crows, ravens, and jays, may rival our cousins the apes in intelligence — in fact, they may even be smarter than children.

Previous studies have indicated corvids are fabulous problem-solvers and can think in the abstract, considering possible future events and the mood or state of mind of another individual.

When Alfred Hitchcock imagined a flock of angry birds exerting their will over humans, he may not have been too far off the mark. Let’s just hope our corvid rulers will show future humans more mercy.