Crows Possess Higher Intelligence Thought Limited To Humans

by : Cameron Frew on : 25 Sep 2020 09:13
Crows Possess Higher Intelligence Thought Limited To HumansCrows Possess Higher Intelligence Thought Limited To HumansPixabay

Here’s another revelation for 2020’s mixing pot of bamboozlement: crows are aware of what they know. 

Birds get a bad reputation. Think back to how you’ve watched pigeons, seagulls and crows before, picking away at scraps, bread and chips either thrown or stolen. Their functions, on the surface, appear to be solely flying and eating.


Consider Alfred Hitchcock’s The Birds. Picture the sentient malevolence in your mind, as Tippi Hedren sneaks past the playground. While crows aren’t evil, they have a higher intelligence than we give them credit for.

Crows The BirdsCrows The BirdsUniversal Pictures

Previous studies and experiments have hinted towards their intellect, whether it be solving Aesop’s geometry puzzles or helping a hedgehog to cross a road before it becomes roadkill.

Two studies have emerged which illustrate the complex nature of a crow’s mind. The first found the birds to be capable of knowing and pondering the content of their own head, an ability typically likened to humans and other mammals such as apes.


The second study, both of which were published in Science, looked at the neuroanatomy of pigeons and barn owls, with its findings applicable to corvids (the family of birds which includes crows, ravens, rooks, jackdaws, jays, magpies, treepies, choughs, and nutcrackers).

Crows Crows PA Images

Neurobiologist Suzana Herculano-Houzel of Vanderbilt University, who also wrote an analysis of the studies, explained to STAT that ‘the two papers show that intelligence/consciousness are grounded in connectivity and activity patterns of neurons’ in the pallium, the most neuron-dense part of a bird’s brain.

She added: ‘Brains can appear diverse, and at the same time share profound similarities. The extent to which similar properties present themselves might be simply a matter of scale: how many neurons are available to work.’


In the first study, two carrion crows were trained to peck a red or a blue target on a panel, depending on whether they saw a faint light.

The paper continued: ‘After a delay, a rule cue informed the crow about which motor action was required to report its percept. Thus, the crows could not prepare motor responses prior to the rule cues, which enabled the investigation of neuronal activity related to subjective sensory experience and its lasting accessibility.’

Crows Crows PA Images

Neurobiologist Andreas Nieder of the University of Tübingen explained to STAT further: 


I think it demonstrates convincingly that crows and probably other advanced birds have sensory awareness, in the sense that they have specific subjective experiences that they can communicate. Besides crows, this kind of neurobiological evidence for sensory consciousness only exists in humans and macaque monkeys.

The second study showed that crows don’t have the ‘six connected layers thought to produce higher intelligence’, as you’d find in smarter mammals. However, Martin Stacho of Ruhr-University in Germany noted that they do have ‘connectivity patterns… reminiscent of the neocortex’.

Herculano-Houzel added: ‘In theory, any brain that has a large number of neurons connected into associative circuitry… could be expected to add flexibility and complexity to behaviour. That is my favorite operational definition of intelligence: behavioural flexibility.’

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Cameron Frew

After graduating from Glasgow Caledonian University with an NCTJ and BJTC-accredited Multimedia Journalism degree, Cameron ventured into the world of print journalism at The National, while also working as a freelance film journalist on the side, becoming an accredited Rotten Tomatoes critic in the process. He's now left his Scottish homelands and taken up residence at UNILAD as a journalist.

Topics: Animals, Birds, Now, Science


STAT and 3 others
  1. STAT

    Brainiacs, not birdbrains: Crows possess higher intelligence long thought a primarily human attribute

  2. Science

    Birds do have a brain cortex—and think

  3. Science

    A neural correlate of sensory consciousness in a corvid bird

  4. Science

    A cortex-like canonical circuit in the avian forebrain