The Cognitive Zoology Group

Why study Corvid Cognition?


Corvids, or crow birds, have been followers of humans throughout the ages of our species history. In the early days, corvids tagged on human hunter-gatherers and fed on the scraps from big game hunting. With the advent of agriculture, corvids adapted to the new abundant recourses provided by humans. During the bloody battles of humans, crow birds have been lurking close by in anticipation of the upcoming feast on the remains. Today, corvids make use of our cities for food and protection. Naturally, this close and shifting relationship has produced multifaceted conceptions of corvids. In some inuit and other hunter-gatherer cultures the raven was the creator of humans and the protector of light. The Vikings had an equally positive image of the raven. In other cultures, corvids was linked to death and the afterworld. Today, modern agriculturalists often regard them as pests, and crows are merely nuisances to many city dwellers. What do appears to be common to most ideas is that corvids are exceptionally witty and smart. Despite centuries of folklore surrounding the intelligence of corvids it was only recently the cognition of crow birds became subject of research.

The results from the cognitive research on corvids have produced a picture of a cognitively sophisticated animal group. Their skills in social and technical contexts seem to be at level with the most intricate abilities we have so far found in animals. A particularly interesting aspect is that their cognition, or the behaviour it produces, appears to be very similar to that of our closest living relatives – the great apes. This should be viewed in the light of that the last common ancestor of mammals and birds existed about 300 million years ago. This means that the similarities we see in complex cognition and behaviour, is the result of independent evolution. In turn, this hints at the fascinating possibility that comparative cognitive research on corvids and great apes might help us to understand the principles, evolutionary and other, of complex cognition – the stuff that defines humans.

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