Speaking Crow

 Crows don’t have many friends amongst us humans. We see them as raucous black birds that are predatory and aren’t very crop friendly. That pretty well gives them three strikes against them.

However, they do have their supporters, or at least people who take the time to study them. They have been shown to be very intelligent and not just squawking nuisances.

They can be quite skilled in tool use and also have excellent memories for faces. If they see you messing about with one of their nests, they not only remember what you look like and start a commotion whenever they see you, but they also teach their offspring to get on your case too.

To most of us a crow squawking sounds like any other crow squawking, but is this also true of crows? Wascher et al decided to check out their voice recognition capabilities with a group of 8 crows housed in an aviary with the odd jackdaw around to confuse the unwary (1, 2).

Firstly the people issue. As they were in an aviary, the crows were fed regularly by people. The first job was to train the feeders to say “Hey” to the crows. The big experiment came when the researchers recorded 5 feeders saying “Hey” and 5 people who hadn’t been introduced to the crows also saying “Hey”.

Hey doesn’t say much, but if the person who feeds you says it, you might expect it to get your attention. This was not the case with the crows, though. The strange voices saying “Hey” got their attention, with them looking up to stare in the direction of the voice. Seems that crows are pretty suspicious of the motives of people shouting at them.

Now the same thing was done with the jackdaws and with jackdaws who were strangers. It seems that the crows responded favorably to their friends who were jackdaws when they heard their contact calls. Apparently they have particular friends with whom they like to hang out with and others who can just go hang.

The next step I guess for the team is to learn how to start speaking crow like the jackdaws so they can have a more meaningful conversation that just “hey”.

  1. Wascher et al, J. Animal Cognition, (2012). DOI: 10.1007/s10071-012-0508-8
  2. http://www.bbc.co.uk/nature/18025926

Leave a Reply