New Caledonian crow observing objects blowing in the breeze

A New Caledonian crow watches objects swaying in the breeze from a fan. Credit: Sarah Jelbert

Animal behaviour

Clever crows size up objects blowing in the wind

A crow species known for its problem solving can infer properties of breezy objects

New Caledonian crows are notoriously brainy. Now researchers have demonstrated that these crows (Corvus moneduloides) make sophisticated inferences by observing the world around them.

A team that included Rachel Miller at the University of Cambridge, UK, trained one group of crows to fetch heavy objects in exchange for a bit of meat; other birds were taught to bring light objects to earn the reward. The researchers then suspended unfamiliar objects from strings in front of a fan, allowing the birds to see whether the items either were blown about or remained still.

The birds immediately selected the correct type of object to receive their reward in 73% of the trials — significantly higher than chance. Birds that did not see the wind’s effect on objects made the right choice 48% of the time — no better than chance. The clever setup proves both that New Caledonian crows are good at learning about objects through observation and that humans are not too shabby at designing experiments.