Study Shows Crows Have Intelligence of 7 Year-Old Humans

Imagine a world where the smartest creature isn’t a primate or a dolphin, but a bird. Yes, you heard that right—a bird!

When we think of intelligence in the animal kingdom, our minds often drift to chimpanzees using tools or dolphins communicating with complex language. But there’s an unexpected contender for the title of ‘brainiacs of the animal world’: Corvids.

These feathered geniuses, which include crows, jays, and ravens, are reshaping our understanding of animal intelligence.

What makes these birds so smart? Let’s find out how they’re giving primates a run for their money.

A Bird’s Brain: Not Just for the Birds

The intelligence of corvids, especially the New Caledonian crow, is staggering. In experiments, these birds have shown problem-solving skills akin to a seven-year-old human.

They use tools, solve complex puzzles, and even demonstrate the ability to plan for the future—a trait once thought to be uniquely human.

In one study, crows were presented with various challenges, such as raising the water level in a tube to reach a treat or selecting the right tool for a specific puzzle box.

Their performance was comparable to that of young children, showcasing not only their problem-solving abilities but also their understanding of cause and effect.

The Evolution of Avian Intellect

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Image Credit: Kostyantyn Skuridin/ShutterStock.

So how did crows become so smart? It turns out that intelligence in birds and mammals evolved independently. While mammals developed a cerebral cortex, birds have a similarly structured pallium.

Despite their small brain size, certain bird species like corvids pack densely populated neurons, leading to enhanced cognitive functions.

But why this high level of intelligence in crows?

One theory suggests it’s linked to their upbringing. New Caledonian crows, for example, are nurtured by their parents for an extended period, allowing them to learn and practice tool use and problem-solving skills.

Crows can even develop facial recognition and learn which humans to avoid.

Social Smarts: More Than Just Pecking Order

Contrary to popular belief, not all intelligent animals need complex social structures to develop their cognitive abilities.

While some corvids do live in tight-knit family groups, their social interactions aren’t as intricate as those seen in primates or other socially intelligent animals. However, juvenile corvids often form ‘gangs‘ where they learn to navigate social dynamics, suggesting that some level of social intelligence is still key to their cognitive development.

Beyond the Nest: Corvids in Our World

The intelligence of corvids has not gone unnoticed in the human realm.

Efforts are being made to harness their smarts for environmental purposes, like training them to pick up litter. This not only helps in keeping our surroundings clean but also showcases a unique collaboration between humans and another intelligent species.

The Bigger Picture: A Lesson In Brain Science

Related: The Creatures with the Biggest Brains on Earth & How They Use It

Studying corvid intelligence isn’t just about understanding birds; it’s about gaining insights into the workings of the brain itself.

By exploring how different creatures think and solve problems, we can unravel the mysteries of cognitive processes, potentially leading to breakthroughs in neuroscience and even artificial intelligence.

Martha A. Lavallie
Martha A. Lavallie
Author & Editor | + posts

Martha is a journalist with close to a decade of experience in uncovering and reporting on the most compelling stories of our time. Passionate about staying ahead of the curve, she specializes in shedding light on trending topics and captivating global narratives. Her insightful articles have garnered acclaim, making her a trusted voice in today's dynamic media landscape.