Do Crows Keep Calendars?

On a recent Saturday morning the air was cold and the sky was clear for the walk to the bakery. Blue jays and cardinals called in the distance but I did not stop to look for them. Other birds might have been calling but I paid them no attention. It was impossible not to pay attention to the crows, however. There were dozens of them in the trees and on the utility lines; here and there a few hopped around on the ground.

Saturday is garbage day in our neighborhood, and the crows appeared to be on the lookout for any bags that they could get at easily and tear apart. Thin white kitchen garbage bags in particular are prime targets.

Crows don’t engender much affection. Anyone who has driven on U.S. roads has seen crows picking at the carcass of some unfortunate creature that couldn’t cross the road quickly enough. Crows steal the young of other birds right out of the nest. And they pick apart and eat garbage. But how do they know it’s garbage day?

crow

Photo (the co-operative crow) taken by Linda Tanner posted to Flickr

It’s hard to imagine crows using a smart phone, let alone a calendar app. Their beaks do seem ideal for tapping, but if they swiped the tips of their wings across the screen to find the app, would the phone recognize the gesture? Does Siri or Robin or Cortana speak Crow? How do the crows know when the garbage will be available for them to inspect?

This notion that crows know when garbage day comes around is just that: a notion. Lacking the resources to confirm or dispose of it, I must regard it as a bit of silly speculation. Two articles, one from a year ago and one just published, offer more definite evidence that crows are not only more intelligent than other bird species, they are more intelligent than other creatures that are commonly held up as models of intelligence outside of the human species.

The first, from audubon.org, is a charming story that describes crows bringing gifts to an 8-year-old Seattle girl. The second, in the online publication The Behemoth, looks at crows that appear to conduct funerals for their dead.

When I look for birds, I look for the colorful, the unusual, the pleasant-sounding, but the common, unattractive, raucous crows are the ones that seem to be blessed with gifts that other birds do not have. What other creatures or phenomena in nature do I look past because they seem uninteresting, when in reality they offer insights into the complexities and marvels of the creation? I understand starlings have quite a story to tell. Maybe I’ll listen to that story next.

As always, thanks for stopping by!

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