There are many of us that have heard that term that someone is a “bird brain.” It is intended to point out that someone is kind of a dolt, as birds are seen as not very bright at all. This is a common thought that is well grounded to be frank. Most birds are not very smart. If you see the size of a bird’s brain, it is clear that they really can’t be very smart, and so seeing them as rather dense simply makes sense.
This has long been the conventional wisdom of many scientists and bird enthusiasts. The bird is not a very bright or intelligent creature is what many have thought for generations. However, that thinking is starting to be challenged as scientists examine more closely one particular species of birds – the corvids.
Corvids include such birds as ravens, rooks, jays, and crows. As scientists have done more research on these animals they have found that these are some of the most intelligent of all creatures that inhabit the earth. That may seem incredibly difficult to grasp, especially considering the small size of these creature’s brains.
It should be made clear to you upfront that in examining a crow no one is thinking that these animals are going to be winning contests on Jeopardy. These aren’t scholars going to Harvard or the next great MIT engineers. This is not the way that the evaluation is being made.
Why crows and other corvids are considered so intelligent is because of their ability to problem solve, make tools, and it seems that they have a rather peculiar way of being able to predict the events that will occur in the future as well as to be able to gauge the state of mind of human beings. That sounds like a rather incredible tale to be telling, but the evidence makes it clear that these animals are some of the most intelligent species on the earth.
For scientists, intelligence is determined by a few key features. The first one of these is whether it is able to recognize itself in a mirror. If you have examined your cat or dog, frequently they see the image of themselves in the mirror as a foal rather than a self-reflection. This is not the case for the crow. Instead, it is able to fully recognize in the mirror that it is actually looking at itself. This makes it one of the few creatures on earth that has the intellectual capability to be able to do this.
The next one of the criteria for intelligence is the ability to solve complex problems. This is another area where the crows truly excel. This includes their ability to adjust their environment, change circumstances to benefit themselves, and create roadblocks or obstacles that hinder predators or other harmful animals from being able to create a dangerous situation for them. The crow was quite exceptional at this, not only being able to figure out how to get into places that should be beyond its intelligence to be able to figure out, but also to create traps and obstacles that hinder those animals that would see to make the crow a meal.
A crow is also considered intelligent because of its ability to make and use tools to benefit itself. What makes this animal so interesting is that birds don’t have hands, like primates, that enable it to use tools. However, it is figured out a means to be able to make and use tools, primarily using its beak as the means to control and use the tools themselves. This is truly fantastic if you consider it. It shows an unbelievable level of intelligence to use its limited physical abilities to still be able to accomplish complex tasks.
The ability to use analogies and symbols is another level of intelligence. No one is saying for a moment that a crow is attempting to communicate with other crows using symbols. That would be absurd. Where a crow fits into this category is in its ability to be able to read and understand symbols for itself. Many of the symbols that man uses to communicate with one another a crow understands. That is a very interesting characteristic of his intelligence that is not seen in many other species of animals out there.
Lastly, intelligence is measured by the ability of that animal to figure out what others are thinking. A crow has a very intuitive ability to evaluate how another animal is reacting, including human beings, in figure out from their appearance what they are thinking. This enables them to be able to choose situations that can protect themselves more fully.
Again, no one believes that the crow is some kind of super evolved, highly intelligent animal. They still have a rather small brain that limits their ability to accomplish many things. However, in the grand scheme of comparisons to other animals, the crow shows an uncanny ability to demonstrate some of the most complex forms of intelligence that for generations many thought were reserved only for primates and some other forms of mammals. Now that reasoning has to be challenged as the crow is proving to be a bit more involved in its intelligence then one would think. This is why ideas like Alfred Hitchcock’s the Birds are maybe not as out of the realm of possibilities as we would like to think.