Gifts of the Crow
Published on Saturday, May 25, 2013 - 12:11pm
Don't be insulted if they call you a bird-brain -- it means you're pretty smart! The stories of what these birds can figure out will amaze you.
Gifts of Crow by John M. Marzluff and Tony Angell explores the brain-power of all corvids -- ravens, jays and magpies as well as crows. As the author of another good book on the subject (Mind of the Raven by Bernd Heinrich) says: "Serious and at times hilarious, it pulled me in with its telling anecdotes and scientific context. ... it ... explores the many complex similarities between crows' mental traits and our own." Since I couldn't have said it better myself, once I read that quote -- among the many rave reviews in the front of the paperback version -- I knew I had to feature the book here.
You will learn a great deal about how their brains work, but it is the stories of their exploits that will have you looking at crows and jays in a new way. I especially liked the ravens, who learned to use a "surfboard" of bark to ride the winds in a Colorado canyon, the talking crow (I didn't know they could talk!), who used the phrase he had learned to call dogs and lead them on a merry chase, and of course the experiments that reveal the capacity for insight -- looking at a situation and using one tool to get another tool, to then retrieve food.
I plan to keep a closer eye on the birds of this family in the future, because, as the authors suggest, since these birds are easy to see, if you are aware of their capabilities and really watch what they do, you might observe behavior that is evidence of their abilities. In other words, it is a chance for anyone to be a citizen scientist. Marzluff and Angell encourage anyone who observed behavior showing insight or problem solving to write it down, and find some way of reporting it, perhaps to a local nature or bird club, to get it on record.