Rochester Science

Rochester’s crows: maybe we live to regret pissing them off?

One of the best aspects of being human is that we are the superior species.  We may not be the fastest or the strongest, but we are without a doubt the smartest, right? Not taking into consideration the many idiots we’ve all undoubtedly met, this is said to be true. So who would be a close second? Apes? Domesticated pets? Think again. Crows are just as smart, and in some ways, even smarter than many humans. Terrifying? You have no idea.

Mankind has a long, and at times, checkered past with crows. In ancient folklore, they have been regarded as symbols of death, and sometimes, even credited as creators of the world. Aesop wrote a story entitled “The Crow and the Pitcher” in which a crow, who wants to drink some water from a pitcher he can’t reach, drops pebbles into the pitcher until the water raises enough for him to drink it. Now Aesop, as talented as he was, was a fable writer and not a scientist; however, he was not that far off in his measurements of crow intelligence.

Aesop’s crow fable was later tested, and the results were amazing. The tested crows did get the water in the end, but not by some rudimentary method of trial and error. Instead, the crows exhibited knowledge of which stones (larger versus smaller) would achieve the desired effect. Most crows figured the trick out on their first try; the few who didn’t, got it on their second attempt.  Cool, right? Yeah, but not exactly what creature of death stories are made of. For that, chew on this:

Crows can remember your face. When was the last time you checked out a group of crows (which, for the record, a “group” of crows is called a murder of crows. That in itself is unsettling.) and could tell them apart? Chances are, they all just looked like a bunch of big, black birds with no real defining or memorable differences. You would think humans would also appear that way to crows, but not so. Recent research published just over 6 months ago explains the study of a masked man “terrorizing” a selected group of crows. Any time the man passed by without his mask, he was left alone, however, each time he wore the mask, he was attacked. The study concluded:

“Crows remember the faces of ‘dangerous humans’ with the memories likely lasting the bird’s lifetime. Crows may scold people who threaten them, bringing in relatives and even strangers to ‘mob’ the person. The crows within mobs then indirectly learn about the person, so they, too, associate the individual’s face with danger and react accordingly.”

Birds holding grudges – Alfred Hitchcock, much? In addition to their impeccable logic and memory, crows are excellent planners, extremely loyal, and most certainly do not take slack from anyone or anything.  Let’s just hope the authorities performing the harassment tactics to rid the Rochester crows don’t keep their faces visible while the procedures are in progress.