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7 Reasons Why Crows Are Smarter Than You Think

Anyone who's observed crows knows they're fascinating creatures. These facts prove they're much smarter than we realize!

Humans have been birdwatching for eons. There’s something about our feathered friends that have provided mankind with endless fascination. But anyone who’s ever watched crows will tell you these are no ordinary birds. They display behavior that can be described as nothing short of amazing mixed in with a little bit of “unsettling”—their keen intelligence is clearly evident and sometimes you wonder if they’re plotting something big. Some call it “scary smart.” In fact, scientists have discovered that crows display the intelligence of a 7-year-old child.

After reading these facts about crows, we think you’ll agree that they are truly fascinating creatures!

five crows on a fence

The American Crow Characteristics

Crows are members of the Corvidae bird family, or “corvids,” which includes jays, magpies, and ravens, and there are more than 30 species of crows around the world. Crows are found on every continent except Antarctica.

The American crow (Corvus brachyrhynchos) is the most common and widespread crow in North America. It is often confused with the common raven (Corvus corax), but crows are slightly smaller, have smoother throats, slimmer bills, and have the familiar caw-caw call. Crows are also more social than ravens and are more likely to be found in flocks. See below for how to tell them apart.

7 Fascinating Facts About Crows

1. Crows have some of the biggest brain-to-body ratios of all birds, and have a higher density of neurons than many primates. The New Caledonian crow (Corvus moneduloides) has a brain that makes up 2.7 percent of its body weight (an adult human’s brain is only about 1.9 percent of its body weight, as a comparison).

2. Crows have been known to make and use tools such as sticks to wedge under bark to find food. Carrion crows (Corvus corone) in Japan have learned how to place nuts in the road for cars to break open, and will wait for traffic lights to turn so they can retrieve the nut meats. Some crows even use bread as bait to attract fish to hunt.

a murder of crows roosting in tree
A group of crows is called a “murder.”

Fun fact: A group of crows is called a “murder.”

3. Crows can learn to recognize faces, and will remember specific faces for weeks or months. They are especially good at remembering faces that have been associated with disturbance or harm. In other words, they can hold a grudge. Conversely, they’ve been known to leave gifts for people who feed them.

4. Crows have been known to hold “funerals” for their dead, gathering around a deceased crow as if in mourning. It is believed they do this in order to learn why the bird died so they can avoid similar threats.

5. Crows, especially juveniles, often play games. They will taunt cats and dogs, slide on ice roofs, swing from branches, and play tug-of-war. These games help them practice survival skills for foraging, discouraging predators, and collecting nesting material.

Listen to the many different sounds crows make here.

6. Crows stay in large, extended families. Young birds may stay with their parents for up to five years, helping raise the next generations of baby crows by bringing food to the nest or defending the nesting area from predators.

7. Crows roost together in large flocks, with some flocks having as many as 100,000 birds or more resting in the same space for the night for warmth, mutual protection, and the opportunity to find a mate. These communal roosts may be used for many years, or they could shift location periodically. Most of these nightly crow slumber parties are made up of young birds without mates, but older birds may also be part of roosting flocks during the non-breeding season.

Crows vs. Ravens: Which is Which?

american crow and common raven side by side comparison
American crow, left; Common raven, right.

Crows and ravens appear very similar, and they’re often mistaken for one another. Here are a few key differences:

Ravens have fluffier feathers around their head and throat. They also have thicker beaks than crows, more of a curve to the end.

Additionally, a crows’ tail feathers are all fairly even in length, giving it a fan-shaped appearance during flight. Ravens have tail feathers that vary in lengths so their tails will appear wedge-shaped.

Some differences can be seen when the birds are on the ground, too. Crows usually walk, while ravens will do a walk-hop combination.

Take a few extra minutes to watch crows—you never know what other amazing behaviors and traits you might discover!

Melissa Mayntz is a freelance writer and birder, naturally writing about birds. She pubished her first book, Migration: Exploring the Remarkable Journeys of Birds in spring 2020. Find her at Be Your Own Birder and follow her on Facebook and Twitter.

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Angela Haggerty

Crows are fascinating there is no doubt. Communicating with them is the most amazing experience. I look forward everyday to my interactions with the family that lives here 💓

Janet Witts

Are ravens at least almost as smart as cows?

Terry

We have a family of crows who greet us when we arrive at our cabin. They use our dog’s fur in their nest and the mom and dad will even eat out of my hand. We know which one is the mom crow because she has a signature clicking noise and also meows! Last year they started leaving us gifts on our outdoor table where we sit to enjoy our view, a shiny bottle cap, a giant dead spider and various other little things. We love seeing their new brood every spring.

Patricia M Ford

I always wanted a pet crow! Especially after my Dad came home one night after building a house. Their go-fer, Tom, had been called loudly by name many times. After lunch they were all sprawled out in the backyard and kept hearing “Tom”, “TOM”. Tom was taking a nap in the sun! The men started answering the call and finally the crow appeared in the top of a nearby tree!

Crows also come into towns to find warm areas on cold nights… and leave unsightly messes on the streets and sidewalks… resulting in governments spending thousands of dollars to drive them away! While trying to show Mom where they were I used my little pocket laser flashlight and away they flew. Wouldn’t it be cheaper to supply all the evening dog walkers a $1 light? 🙂

Addie fraser

Family of six crows were pulling up newly sprouted green bean plants in my garden after each replant. Remembered farmers of old would kill a crow and hang it up in the garden to repel the crows. I created a lifelike crow out of shiny black material and hung it in the bean row. Next morning crows inspected this and flew to a nearby rise in our field , sitting in a conference circle. I think they might have been considering who was hanging there. They moved away and never came back. They do hold a grudge and pass that knowledge of danger here to the next generations. I actually miss them but I never did hurt them except psychologically.

Alice

I have seen crows around my office feasting on rats. Beautiful birds but scary behaviors indeed.

Sandra J Lind

I saw a murder at work today!! this sounds so strange but its true….about 10 crows feeding on some seeds a resident had thrown onto the pavement…..this was a very interesting article indeed!!!

Gini Ramsey

I have wondered if my birds were ravens or crows and this article cleared it up. Mine are crows.

Liz

I found that this article was extremely interesting!! Thank you

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