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Science Wednesday: The Intelligent and Adaptable Crow

Tue, 02/19/2013 - 12:04pm -- WCVE

Crows live everywhere in the world except Antarctica and are a part of myths and legends in many cultures. Their reputation in the stories varies from comical to frightening, godlike or wise, bringers of light and bringers of death, though a “murder” of crows refers to a flock of crows, and not to anything murderous, at all. They may be all these things, but what we are learning is that they are especially smart.

New research has shown that they are among the most intelligent animals on the planet. They use tools as only elephants and chimpanzees do, and recognize 250 distinct calls. One particular talent they have been discovered to possess is the ability to recognize individual human faces and pick them out of a crowd up to two years later – a trick that might make even Hitchcock shiver with fright.

Watch this Science Wednesday program - Nature: A Murder of Crows - February 20 at 8:00 p.m. on WCVE PBS / WHTJ PBS.

They thrive wherever people live and have used their great intelligence to adapt again and again to a constantly changing world. Some memorize garbage truck routes, and follow the feast from day to day. Others drop nuts in the road and wait for passing cars to crack them open. And some build their nests from items we throw away – like wire clothes hangers.

These are social birds that mate for life and raise their young for up to five years. And they learn from each other’s misfortunes. When one is killed in a farmer’s field, it’s not uncommon for them to change entire migratory patterns so that no crows fly over that field for as long as two years.

These birds might have a scary reputation, but what may prove to be the scariest thing about them is how much they know about us, and how little we know about them!