Author Topic: Crows are pretty damn smart  (Read 13946 times)

Offline Numsgil

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Crows are pretty damn smart
« on: May 23, 2008, 07:23:01 PM »
I was taking my daily walk from my office to the corner and back, when I saw something that amazed me:

A crow had something large in its mouth (either a bread stick or a piece of bologna or something like that), and flew in to an empty Lot.  It placed the food on the ground, and proceeded to dig a small hole by ripping out a few tufts of grass.  It then picked up a piece of the food, placed it in the whole, and covered it back up with the tufts of grass it had pulled out.  It then took the rest of the food and dug a whole a couple of feet from the first, again by ripping up tufts of grass.  And then it buried the rest of its food, again covering it back up with the tufts it had pulled out.  Finished, it flew off.

I don't know if I'm just biased against non-mammals, or if most of the city birds I'm familiar with are pretty live-in-the-moment instead of thinking ahead, but it downright amazed me.  Did some google searching and found this on crow food hording.

I've seen lots of interesting behaviors from the crows on my walk.  Like one time where it looked like 5 or 6 birds were dive-bombing a lone crow in the field to scare him.  They'd pull up at the last second, and the crow they were dive bombing was merrily ignoring all their efforts.

So I guess the moral of the story is that you should never underestimate the intelligence of "pests".

Offline shvarz

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Crows are pretty damn smart
« Reply #1 on: May 24, 2008, 11:31:27 AM »
Maybe because I'm from Siberia, but I'm completely used to the idea that birds hoard food. There is almost no other way for wild birds to survive there.

Have you seen the famous video of the crow that makes (sic!) a tool to reach a piece of food?  Now, that is amazing!
Upd: Here it is http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=TtmLVP0HvDg...feature=related  and more on related videos
« Last Edit: May 24, 2008, 11:39:51 AM by shvarz »
"Never underestimate the power of stupid things in big numbers" - Serious Sam

Offline Numsgil

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Crows are pretty damn smart
« Reply #2 on: May 24, 2008, 09:23:03 PM »
I am constantly amazed at how smart animals can be.  

Offline gymsum

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« Reply #3 on: May 25, 2008, 12:51:25 AM »
Quote from: Numsgil
I was taking my daily walk from my office to the corner and back, when I saw something that amazed me:

A crow had something large in its mouth (either a bread stick or a piece of bologna or something like that), and flew in to an empty Lot.  It placed the food on the ground, and proceeded to dig a small hole by ripping out a few tufts of grass.  It then picked up a piece of the food, placed it in the whole, and covered it back up with the tufts of grass it had pulled out.  It then took the rest of the food and dug a whole a couple of feet from the first, again by ripping up tufts of grass.  And then it buried the rest of its food, again covering it back up with the tufts it had pulled out.  Finished, it flew off.

I don't know if I'm just biased against non-mammals, or if most of the city birds I'm familiar with are pretty live-in-the-moment instead of thinking ahead, but it downright amazed me.  Did some google searching and found this on crow food hording.

I've seen lots of interesting behaviors from the crows on my walk.  Like one time where it looked like 5 or 6 birds were dive-bombing a lone crow in the field to scare him.  They'd pull up at the last second, and the crow they were dive bombing was merrily ignoring all their efforts.

So I guess the moral of the story is that you should never underestimate the intelligence of "pests".
In nature nothing lacks intelligence... genes have adapted to adapt to the envrionment, the mutation thing was taken care of long ago, and development of the right instincts haev given some speices a certain amount of intelligence.

Offline Numsgil

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Crows are pretty damn smart
« Reply #4 on: May 25, 2008, 04:18:31 AM »
But this crow behavior wasn't just instinct.  It was learned.  It involved thought.  Think of what's involved:

  • The crow has to be able to understand the idea that not having food now will mean food in the future.
  • The crow has to be able to remember where it put the food.
  • The crow understands that other animals might want its food, and so it puts effort in to hiding it from others by camouflaging it.  This means it can place itself in the mind of other birds/animals, and gauge intention.
  • The crow understands the idea that the ground it removes to make a hole can be put back in to the hole and it's no longer a hole.  That is, it isn't just covering the hole, its using the stuff it removed to make the hole to help camouflage it.

Instincts can be amazing, too, but they're preprogrammed responses that have developed over millions of years.  Learned behaviors have to be relearned during each individual's life, making them much more impressive (several million years vs. a few years).

Offline bacillus

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Crows are pretty damn smart
« Reply #5 on: May 25, 2008, 04:45:10 AM »
Not exactly the same thing, but here some magpies have found out how to get into supermarkets by fluttering their wings near the automatic door sensor. That was pretty amazing.
"They laughed at Columbus, they laughed at Fulton, they laughed at the Wright brothers. But they also laughed at Bozo the Clown."
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Offline EricL

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Crows are pretty damn smart
« Reply #6 on: May 25, 2008, 12:20:16 PM »
I read an interesting paper a few years ago about some swallows (I think they were swallows) in England whose beak shape had evolved to better let them get into the foil wrap on milk bottles left on doorsteps.  The paper gave evidence of positive selection on beak shape for this adaptation, much along the lines of Darwin's finches and seed size.

I'm the first guy to chime in and say we tend to over estimate the difference between humans and other species when it comes to capabilities like this, but in this case I think you may be giving the crows a tad bit too much credit.  It's not at all clear this is learned behaviour.  It may very well be that selection has just favorred crows who always dig a hole and put some of their food in it when they have more than X amount.  The crows don't necesarily undestand the concept of now and later, don't undestand the concept that giving up food means more food later, at least not in the way we do.  They just do what they do because ancestors of theirs that did it had higher reproductive success then those who didn't.  I don't actually know this to be the case and I agree that crows are very smart birds, but I rather suspect it.  General purpose intelligence and/or learned behaviour is expensive compared to pre-programmed instinct.  If behanviour can be hard coded, nature tends to select for that.

The magpie behaviour may or may not be learned behavoir.  I suspect it is learned, since automatic supermarket doors just havn't been around that long and the birds already have a lot of built-in wiring to follow other birds to food or return to where there is food so I can see learning to flutter in a certan spot being something learnable for each generation.  But as with the swallows and the milk bottles above, it could be an evolved behavioural adaptation.   I wonder whether some grad student has tried the experiment: build an identical super market with doors that never open or steal eggs and raise birds with parents that don't teach that behaviour and see if it is still there...



Quote from: shvarz
Have you seen the famous video of the crow that makes (sic!) a tool to reach a piece of food?  Now, that is amazing!
Wow!  Now that is pretty fricken amazing...
Many beers....

Offline ikke

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Crows are pretty damn smart
« Reply #7 on: May 25, 2008, 01:13:13 PM »
Quote from: shvarz
Have you seen the famous video of the crow that makes (sic!) a tool to reach a piece of food?  Now, that is amazing!
Upd: Here it is http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=TtmLVP0HvDg...feature=related  and more on related videos
Didn't know this one. I saw a similar one about one of them making a barb on a twig to catch grubs.

Offline Trafalgar

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Crows are pretty damn smart
« Reply #8 on: May 25, 2008, 04:50:26 PM »
I've seen some pretty smart behaviors in chickens, and I've seen a few dumb ones too. They never seem to have any regard for where they're pooping, so they may poop in their food or in their water if they can roost where they would poop on them. And if someone tries to grab them or they want to get out of something, they may try to run or fly through wire walls/fences, plastic mesh, or windows in an attempt to dodge. They generally won't do that if they aren't trying to get away from something, so maybe they just don't notice semi-transparent objects very well when they're panicking. Roosters also won't protect their hens from other hens (whether or not the rooster thinks they're all his).

As for smart things, if you make a habit of grabbing them to pick them up, it won't work for more than one or two times on a particular chicken, since they start staying out of reach of you after you do it the first time or two. (And they can run just as fast as a person, and they can go through shrubbery or beside trees which would slow a person down) You can try luring them over with corn or another treat, but once you've grabbed them while offering them a treat, they'll stop coming that close to you to get a treat. You can toss corn somewhere to get them to go there indefinitely, though. If you get them into an enclosed area that way and then go in there and grab them, they don't seem to associate being grabbed with the corn or the enclosed area.

Quote from: Numsgil
  • The crow has to be able to understand the idea that not having food now will mean food in the future.
Or "I have enough food already, but here's more... What if I hide it so someone else is less likely to eat it?"

Quote from: Numsgil
Instincts can be amazing, too, but they're preprogrammed responses that have developed over millions of years.  Learned behaviors have to be relearned during each individual's life, making them much more impressive (several million years vs. a few years).
Learned behaviors also appear to require a fairly tightly knit social structure in order to spread newly discovered ones.
« Last Edit: May 25, 2008, 05:00:16 PM by Trafalgar »

Offline Numsgil

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Crows are pretty damn smart
« Reply #9 on: May 26, 2008, 04:50:43 PM »
Quote from: EricL
I'm the first guy to chime in and say we tend to over estimate the difference between humans and other species when it comes to capabilities like this, but in this case I think you may be giving the crows a tad bit too much credit.  It's not at all clear this is learned behaviour.  It may very well be that selection has just favorred crows who always dig a hole and put some of their food in it when they have more than X amount.  The crows don't necesarily undestand the concept of now and later, don't undestand the concept that giving up food means more food later, at least not in the way we do.  They just do what they do because ancestors of theirs that did it had higher reproductive success then those who didn't.  I don't actually know this to be the case and I agree that crows are very smart birds, but I rather suspect it.  General purpose intelligence and/or learned behaviour is expensive compared to pre-programmed instinct.  If behanviour can be hard coded, nature tends to select for that.

I could maybe buy that except for all the trouble it goes through to hide it, and the extremely short duration (<1 day usually) for them to come back to retrieve the hidden food.  It's just too short term for me to belive instinct is directing the whole affair.

Quote
The magpie behaviour may or may not be learned behavoir.  I suspect it is learned, since automatic supermarket doors just havn't been around that long and the birds already have a lot of built-in wiring to follow other birds to food or return to where there is food so I can see learning to flutter in a certan spot being something learnable for each generation.  But as with the swallows and the milk bottles above, it could be an evolved behavioural adaptation.   I wonder whether some grad student has tried the experiment: build an identical super market with doors that never open or steal eggs and raise birds with parents that don't teach that behaviour and see if it is still there...

But remember that these birds are rather social.  It's not just a matter of seeing their parents do it.  Just observing another bird do something and get rewarded for it (food) is enough for them to pick up on it.

Quote from: Trafalgar
Quote from: Numsgil
  • The crow has to be able to understand the idea that not having food now will mean food in the future.
Or "I have enough food already, but here's more... What if I hide it so someone else is less likely to eat it?"

Right, that's what I'm talking about.  The crow has to understand the idea that other birds have the same intentions it does (that other birds think the way it does).  As opposed to other birds just being part of its environment.  It's also not an attrition behavior, since it comes back for the food later.

Quote
Learned behaviors also appear to require a fairly tightly knit social structure in order to spread newly discovered ones.

Crows are defintely social.  Sometimes I see them doing things that reminds me of elementary school children.

Offline gymsum

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Crows are pretty damn smart
« Reply #10 on: May 26, 2008, 11:50:40 PM »
Do you remember Douglas Adams' Hitchhikers' Guide to the Galaxy? In his 4th book to his trilogy, he explains a test conducted by some advanced and funded research team to develop inteligence and finally emotion. The process of creating emotion can be said to be merely a complex balance of some important numbers. Their first major breakthrough was developing an emotion similar to frustration. It was an easy set up similar to your suposed crow theory;

1 - The bot would only store 1 in happy if it was holding a glass of water.
2 - The bot would record every attempt to grab.
3 - THe bot's hands were developed to never fully hold the cup long enough, so the happy value would return to 0.

Eventually the bot understood the concept of frustration, and the need and desire for something. Another experiment then proved boredom was simple, a bot merely pushed a button and recorded each push, with happy or sad values. THats not really 'intelligence' as it is so much more instinct in an Eco System which allowed for more intelligent/better adapted genetics to continue. Its simple darwinism. However for AI purposes we have to create something from nothing and make it work. So lets revist their experiment and make it work for a crow:

1 - The bird will only be happy if it knows where it can feed.
2 - The bird will record as much information as is capable with such a small cpu.
3 - The bird will never eat all of its food without finding more.

So in three steps we've explained why the Crow does what it does. Very basic and instinctive. The line between instinct and intelligence could have more to do with what we consider instictual, and what an intelligent decision really is. Is it better to sacrifice a larger bot to save a smaller one? Is it worth not being happy when you poses the capability to make that value store 1? Depedning on how you answer those determines not only your ethical views, but if you are a Greek or Latin based thinker. Regardless birds are not capable of anything beyond their genetic make up, and therefore are just as stupid as the single-celled bacteria capable of sharing genetic material; or the spiders which developed to exsists very high up in the atmosphere. Its all a matter of dna, and in reality DNA is not so much code, as it is energy/frequency. But I definitely dont see the crow surviving another ice age.
« Last Edit: May 26, 2008, 11:56:26 PM by gymsum »

Offline Trafalgar

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« Reply #11 on: May 27, 2008, 12:32:58 PM »
Quote from: gymsum
Regardless birds are not capable of anything beyond their genetic make up, and therefore are just as stupid as the single-celled bacteria capable of sharing genetic material

Alex the african grey parrot would have disagreed with you: http://science-community.sciam.com/blog-en...arrot/300004074

Offline EricL

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« Reply #12 on: May 27, 2008, 12:57:20 PM »
Quote from: gymsum
The line between instinct and intelligence could have more to do with what we consider instictual, and what an intelligent decision really is.
The main difference between hard-coded instinct and general purpose intelligence is plasticity.  The downside to hard-wiring instincts is inflexibility when environmental conditions change.  This is the main reason why we don't really see "genetic memory" in nature except when it comes to very long-term things such as seasons or phases of the moon, etc.

Quote from: gymsum
Regardless birds are not capable of anything beyond their genetic make up, and therefore are just as stupid as the single-celled bacteria capable of sharing genetic material;
I don't even know what that means.  What would it mean for an organism to be capable of something beyond it's genetic makeup?  If an organism is capable of something it is because it's DNA coded for it.   Organisms have greater or lessor plasticity in various traits, as coded by their DNA.  Period.  The greator the plasticitiy, the more flexable the organism in that area, but also the more it has to learn anew every generation.  If a bird is capable of complex behaviours, be they learned or instinctual, it's becuase it's DNA coded for it, either explicitly or for the underlying plasticity that allows it.

Quote from: gymsum
Its all a matter of dna, and in reality DNA is not so much code, as it is energy/frequency.

I really don't know what that means.
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Offline gymsum

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« Reply #13 on: May 27, 2008, 02:16:37 PM »
John Rife... should be able to explain some of that... In short: all frequencies are vibrational energies... all matter has mass... E=mc^2 therefore all mass is energy. Therefore all frequencies and energies are contained within entities as matter. And all matter is contained as a frequency or energy.

I say the difference between intelligence and instinctual ntelligence is evident but not always clear. In Hemp for instance, should the environment conditions chnage from the previous year, the plant will reproduce seed to be better suited for that environment. The definition of a mind is clear cut, but instictual intelligence is not.. The same method for reaction occurs in almost every natural being, sea fish like Salmon are capable of climatizing to fresh water, etc... It is the difference in minds that make them capable. And I do not see a bird asking the question why; something necessary for "understanding" anything. It could be that it has developed to use scent for food markers and complex oral communications to transfer memories, but I dont think that a Crow would ever ask itself why it eats. And if a being does not ask why, then it cannot get an answer of understanding. Thats where the whole 42 bit comes in. Who, what, when, where, and how are quite possibly all a crow is able to ask; this means it might know something about its environment and clan condtions, but it certainly has no concept as to why it needs or does anything. True it might work for reproduction, but that is instinct from the begining of life, everything does work for energy, thats how the energy system works. Its as simple as building a mind that records locations, times and personal information, but never 'thinks' about it. Instinct dictates how and why it thinks; intelligent beings have more plasticity to allow for thoughts, and eventually "understand" anything.
« Last Edit: May 27, 2008, 02:18:36 PM by gymsum »

Offline Numsgil

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« Reply #14 on: May 27, 2008, 03:02:43 PM »
Saying that DNA is energy is like saying that an airplane is wood, wire, aluminum, and a bit of steel.  It may be a true statement, but it in no way helps you understand the amazing feat it is capable of.  In fact, it's not until you bring the abstraction level up to the level of chemistry that you can begin to understand the amazing DNA molecule.  General relativity does not really impact biology at all, in fact.  Quantum mechanics just barely overlaps if you include chemistry (which is a pretty pedestrian application of quantum mechanics at that...)

Quote
I say the difference between intelligence and instinctual ntelligence is evident but not always clear. In Hemp for instance, should the environment conditions chnage from the previous year, the plant will reproduce seed to be better suited for that environment. The definition of a mind is clear cut, but instictual intelligence is not.. The same method for reaction occurs in almost every natural being, sea fish like Salmon are capable of climatizing to fresh water, etc...

Certainly instinct exists, and it's quite amazing in its own right.  I don't dispute that at all.  But in this case I think it involves thought.

Quote
...It could be that it has developed to use scent for food markers and complex oral communications to transfer memories, ...

That's a far bolder statement than I intended, certainly.  Crows certainly vocalize quite a bit.  I tend to think of their calls as a few common phrases, like : "nyah, nyah", "mine", "shoo", "I'm sexy!" and "You're sexy!".  But who knows, they might be playing that game between Andre the giant and the Spaniard in "The Princess Bride":

Quote
Inigo Montoya: That Vizzini, he can *fuss*.
Fezzik: Fuss, fuss... I think he like to scream at *us*.
Inigo Montoya: Probably he means no *harm*.
Fezzik: He's really very short on *charm*.
Inigo Montoya: You have a great gift for rhyme.
Fezzik: Yes, yes, some of the time.
Vizzini: Enough of that.
Inigo Montoya: Fezzik, are there rocks ahead?
Fezzik: If there are, we all be dead.
Vizzini: No more rhyming now, I mean it.
Fezzik: Anybody want a peanut?
Vizzini: DYEEAAHHHHHH.



Quote
It is the difference in minds that make them capable. And I do not see a bird asking the question why; something necessary for "understanding" anything. but I dont think that a Crow would ever ask itself why it eats. And if a being does not ask why, then it cannot get an answer of understanding.

I'm not saying crows are sentient, just far more adaptable and intelligent than other city birds I've ever seen.  I consider it like the Turing test for computers, only applied to intelligence: if some animal can convince me it's smart, it probably is.

Quote
Thats where the whole 42 bit comes in.

What 42 bit thing?  Surely you're not bringing a British radio play in to a conversation about crows in anything but a tongue-in-cheek way?