Crows are super intelligent, and they’ve demonstrated this time and again. They can leave gifts to people and even shape and use tools to get what they want. And a new study affirms crows are self-aware just like humans and are surprisingly more competent than we thought. According to experts, these birds and corvids can even think about their problems and search for possible solutions.
Are birds really self-aware?
Intelligence runs in the crow family, corvids. It is a diverse group of over 120 bird species and includes ravens, rooks, jays, jackdaws, magpies, treepies, nutcrackers, and choughs. Many of these birds have a brain-to-body-size ratio you would expect from an ape, not a bird. In fact, according to a study in the Current Biology journal, “[a] crow’s brain is the same relative size as the chimpanzee brain.”
What’s even more surprising is what researchers in a new study published in the journal Science have found: Crows are capable of thinking and even “ponder the content of their own minds.” The study adds that these birds can also use their complex brains to find clever solutions to their problems. It is a level of self-awareness that has only been observed in a handful of animals besides humans, such as monkeys and great apes.
Crows’ brains are parked with neurons
The crows are not the only birds that show high cognitive capabilities. The ability to think and solve problems may be because some birds possess high brain cell numbers that may be directly proportional to the bird’s intelligence. Another study, also in Science, looked in unprecedented detail at the avian neuroanatomy. The research found that both avians have similar neuroanatomy with some apes and monkeys. According to this study, crow brains have approximately 1.5 billion neurons.
“[Studies] show that intelligence/consciousness are grounded in connectivity and activity patterns of neurons in the most neuron-dense part of the bird brain, called the pallium. 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,” Neurobiologist Suzana Herculano-Houzel of Vanderbilt University said in a statement.
Do crows have true consciousness?
To test whether crows could cross the line into conscious thought, neurobiologist Andreas Nieder of the University of Tübingen in Germany trained two birds to peck a red or blue target on a panel depending on whether they detected a flash. The “red” target meant seeing it, while “blue” meant not seeing it. Then, the research team observed the crows’ brain activities while solving these tasks.
When the crow’s answer was “yes,” the researchers noticed elevated brain activity in the time between when the light appeared, and the crow pecked the screen. If the answer was “no,” nerve cells remained inactive. The researchers concluded that “the stimulation of neurons recorded the crows. subjective experiences” in the experiment. Thus, the crows knew what they saw, flash or no flash. Neurobiological evidence for sensory consciousness only exists in humans and macaque monkeys.
“Humans have tended to believe that we are the only species to possess certain traits, behaviors, or abilities, especially with regard to cognition. Occasionally, we extend such traits to primates or other mammals — species with which we share fundamental brain similarities. Specifically, carrion crows show a neuronal response in the palliative end brain during the performance of a task that correlates with their perception of a stimulus,” Nieder and his research team wrote in their study, A Neural Correlate of Sensory Consciousness in a Corvid Bird.