How Intelligent Are Crows?


If you were asked to name some of the smartest birds out there, there’s a very good chance that one of the birds you would mention is the crow. In some cases, people may name the entire family of crows, Corvidae, as being one of the most intelligent families of birds, and this would be correct.

Crows and related birds such as jays, magpies, and raves have all proven themselves to be one of the smartest types of bird out there. These birds are often able to complete basic puzzles, have a desire to learn about their surroundings, and are capable of being trained to an extent. With this being said, you may begin to wonder exactly how smart crows really are, and what the limits of their intelligence seem to be.

How Is Intelligence Measured in Birds?

If you ever find yourself wondering how smart birds are, you may also begin to wonder how exactly intelligence is tested for in birds. After all, birds cannot exactly communicate with scientists and researchers in the same way that people need to when they are being tested for intelligence. Because of this, researchers have come up with a number of ways that birds can demonstrate their intellectual capabilities.

The idea of intelligence in birds is measured by how well birds seem to be able to extrapolate information and learn from it. This can range from birds being able to identify patterns, seeking results by taking specific actions, and sometimes even by having what appear to be societal norms and expectations.

Examples of this include birds being able to learn which color milk caps correspond with more nutrient-rich milks, birds practicing hunting in pairs, birds having apparent funerals for deceased birds, and birds leaving nuts in the road so that cars can crush the nuts, leaving the remains for birds to eat more easily when the traffic comes to a halt for traffic lights.

Which Birds Are the Smartest?

Now that you have a little bit more understanding as to what goes into intelligence for birds, you may want to know which birds are considered the smartest. The two families of birds that have repeatedly displayed a capability and drive to learn are corvids and psittacines. The corvid family includes birds such as ravens, crows, and magpies. The psittacine family includes parrots and cockatoos.

These birds have shown that they are the smartest birds compared to all others, often being able to learn puzzles, be trained to complete relatively complex tasks, and even being able to mimic human speech and hold simple conversations. However, there are some other birds that display intelligence, though not quite on the same level.

Birds of prey such as owls and falcons are common subjects to test bird intelligence after corvids and psittacines. They have displayed that they are somewhat smart, understanding how to utilize resources around them to hunt. Other birds that have shown above-average intelligence relative to other bird species include mockingbirds, herons, and shrikes.

What Makes Crows Smart?

So, what exactly makes crows some of the most intelligent birds that have been tested? There are a few facets to this that play into the end result of the crow’s intelligence. There is the brain-to-body weight ratio, the number of neurons within the crow’s brain, and their drive to learn all play a role in how smart these birds end up being.

The brain-to-body weight ratio is a common way that scientists determine an animal’s capability to be able to learn and be intelligent, with heavier brains generally corresponding to increased intelligence. This is thought to be related to the fact that there are more brain cells available, allowing for more complex thought patterns to take place. This is similar to how high neuron counts correspond to an animal’s intelligence.

There is also the fact that, by their nature, crows have an apparent drive to learn. They are inquisitive, bold, and curious animals. This combination of factors makes them more inclined to try and solve problems that they come across, which is considered to be a sign of intelligence.

How Smart Are Crows, Exactly?

It is notoriously difficult to quantify intelligence in animals, as there isn’t exactly a standardized test to measure an animal’s potential in the same way that humans have standardized IQ tests. There are, however, ways to estimate an animal’s potential. This is done through considering the size and weight of the brain, as well as seeing how many estimated neurons an animal’s brain has.

Speaking of which, it has been found that crows have about 1.5 billion neurons in their brain. This number is comparable to that of some monkey species. It is thought that because all of these neurons are so tightly packed into the space a bird has for its brain, this allows for better communication. This brings the crow’s estimated intelligence up to around a gorilla’s intelligence.

Are Crows Capable of Speech?

With all of this being said, it may leave you wondering what exactly crows are capable of if they are seemingly as smart as great apes. You may find yourself wondering can crows talk, and can crows talk like parrots, or if that is a trait that is exclusive only to the psittacine family. The truth of this is a little bit complicated, especially when drawing comparisons to parrots.

Crows have been known to mimic human speech, but being able to mimic sounds is not the same as understanding communication and reciprocating a response. This means that, in a sense, crows are capable of speech to the extent that they can repeat phrases that they have heard. Sadly, they cannot do this at the same level as parrots, nor are they as inclined to talk as parrots are, especially given the fact that crows are commonly seen as a nuisance while parrots are kept as beloved pets.

There is also a biological factor that plays a role in how infrequently crows talk. Crows are incapable of moving their tongue in the same way that parrots do, and because much of human speech relies on the tongue in order to produce sounds, it means that crows have to put in a lot more effort to replicate the sounds that humans make, if they are capable of replicating the sound at all.

Can Crows Be Trained?

It was mentioned that crows are able to repeat some phrases back to humans. It has also been mentioned that crows are capable of being trained when the trainer knows how to work with crows. This combination means that with enough time and patience, crows can be taught that the sounds they mimic have meaning.

This creates a rudimentary form of communication that many animals are not able to replicate, at least not without specialized devices. If enough time is spent teaching a crow to correspond a specific sound, such as “treat” with a treat that it likes, it can be assumed that crows would be able to then ask for treats on their own.

Beyond being taught how to speak and potentially converse with people, it has been proven that crows are capable of being trained. After all, even though crows are not commonly kept as pets, it is believed that they are smarter than cats or dogs. Crows have been trained to perform a number of tasks, ranging from litter collection for food rewards to bringing items to you in exchange for a reward.

The Takeaway

While there is no definitive way to prove a creature’s intelligence, it is believed that crows are just as smart and as capable as parrots are from a purely intellectual standpoint. With how many neurons are densely packed within a crow’s brain, it is believed that their intelligence rivals that of common great apes and potentially even humans.

In addition to this, crows have a drive to learn about the world around them, creating the perfect conditions for a crow to be trained. In fact, crows are even capable of mimicking speech, though they do not have the same ability to pronounce words the way that parrots do.