Putting together this series on Corvids has led down many different trails. Today’s entry is one such branch in the trail that we chose not to follow because this is a blog about birds and birds have brains.
Exploring the nature of intelligence leads directly to exploring the nature of intelligence in Nature. For instance, is it necessary to have a brain to be intelligent? Are trees intelligent? They lack brains, but then they don’t move much and have no eyes. Most of the neurons in mammals, reptiles and birds are for seeing and moving. What about water? At least one scientist has conducted experiments demonstrating that water forms different crystalline structures when it freezes depending on what kind of music is being played during the freezing process. (Water’s taste tends to the classical. It made beautiful, serene crystals when Beethoven or Mozart was played.) Do you have to have a brain to think? Are Crows and Ravens thinkers? Is thinking a prerequisite to be considered intelligent?
These questions are beyond the scope of this blog and, besides, they give us a headache just thinking about them. There is a new blog we have discovered that looks as if it will delve into this broader question of the core nature of intelligence. We’re adding it to the blogroll today. Ruminating on three experiences watching Ravens, the author posed the broader question in the very first post of the blog about “Clever Ravens” which you can read here.
We’ll just continue with Corvids. One, the Clarke’s Nutcracker, stores pine seeds when winter approaches. Your first reaction to that piece of information is probably, “So? Lots of birds and mammals do that.” You are right. But no others store up to 30,000 seeds over a 200 square mile area and then find 90% of them over the next half-year and part of that time when the landscape lies buried under snow. That is a memory feat that not even humans could duplicate.
Other Corvids use tools and make choices. Spend thirty-six seconds watching this video of a New Caledonian Crow.
Note that when the video begins the Crow is using a straight tool. Watch what it decides to do and does once it realizes the straight tool isn’t working.
So here we have Corvids with astounding memories, the ability to make and use tools, exercising some kind of choice and we’ve hardly scratched the surface. This series about Corvids could go on a long time but this is a blog about all birds so we have to keep it to a manageable length. But we are not finished yet. Still to come is a select bibliography, some tips on telling the differences between Crows and Ravens and some more science.