Stone the crows!

CorbeauThe raven has no birdbrain. No doubt about it. The fact has been pointed out in several studies. Corvids may be as clever as great apes and surprisingly an experiment demonstrated that Kitty, a New Caledonian crow may be even smarter than a kindergartner. The bird proved that it could solve complex puzzles to get a reward. Just like primates, corvids have the ability to use their brain. Two and a half centuries ago, Aesop already mentioned a  fun fact about a crow casting pebbles in a container in order to raise the water level, so it could drink.

As I am very fond of old books, I own two 19th century books related to animals’ intelligence. “The intelligence of animals” by Ernest Menault (1869) features the story of a raven named Jaco that used to mimic a rooster, a cat, a dog or a rattle to scare the birds away in a wheat field. Jaco, Dr. Franklin’s raven could say the word “aqua” but it was said that he preferred wine over water. When his master put a glass of red wine on the table, Jaco would sip it, as a real connoisseur. And if the maid would take it away, Jaco would be furious. If his master offered him the choice between water, beer and wine, Jaco favored wine.

In another book also titled “The intelligence of animals” published by Louis Chaux in 1886, it is reported that a crow is perfectly able to make a difference between a stick and a gun. Magpies seem to be even brighter when it comes to weapons. The book tells the story of a teacher who gunned down a lot of magpies. Apparently he had to study their anatomy. Whenever he threatened the birds with his shotgun, magpies on the trees, shrieked in a mocking way. Riddled with bullets, a magpie was thrown in a meadow. An hour later, it was carried away by a bunch of magpies until a shot killed two birds and scattered the others. When a student began to remove the dead birds, some screeching threatening magpies came back…

The carrion crow is clever as well. A man owned one of those in his garden and had a bowl for her to bathe. Sitting on the edge, Javotte would water her head and if the water level was too high, she would make the bowl tip over with her beak. And so the water ran out of the bowl. When the level was right for Javotte, she took her bath.

Another surprising story tells about a man who had a crow in his backyard. When he sat on a bench, the corvid came next to him to be stroked. But the man also had a cat and an old hound dog. The crow was so jealous that he scared them away when they were around. The bird even used to hit the dog’s tail with his beak. The dog would then chase the crow until he found refuge on the top of a tree. If the dog went back to sleep, the bird would quickly come back to hassle the dog. The man thought it would be appropriate to whistle every time the bird came teasing but “the crow seemed indifferent, picking up small stones. And the dog went back to sleep.” So when the dog was getting tired, he ran off, as if resigned. The crow was at last the only one to get all the attention and be stroked by the man but if the man did not do it the right way or suddenly stopped, the bird lightly pinched his thigh. Don’t ever say again: a birdbrain!


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