Teaching Crows to Contribute to Society.

Joshua Klein had an idea. It was an idea that could revolutionize the world, and, at the same time, revolutionize how we perceive one of the most maligned creatures inhabiting the skies: the corvid.

Corvids are known tool-users.

For centuries, crows and ravens have symbolized death, poverty, trickery, theft, and a million other negative things. In reality, corvids are extraordinarily intelligent, discerning creatures. Like other animals that man hates most, corvids do not simply survive alongside us; they thrive, even in areas that we devastate. 

In this remarkable video, hacker and researcher Joshua Klein explains an idea he developed after a friend claimed that exterminating crows would make the world a better place. He designed a vending machine that could be worked by crows: in exchange for coins, the crows would get a peanut. Being corvids, the crows happily obliged – afterall, depositing a coin isn’t much work at all for a fat little nugget of protein, and corvids really like shiny things anyway.

What’s amazing is that Joshua’s vending machine took the crows through multiple stages of learning before the crows understood to pick up loose change in return for the peanuts. Joshua then postulates, if we can teach crows to pick up loose change, what else can we teach them to do?

At first, I admit, I was a little offput because the premise appeared to be “How can we make these animals useful to man so they’re worth keeping alive?” However, after watching the video, I think it’s a genius way to trick those in favor of extermination into thinking the creatures are working for us.

Not to mention the crows make out okay. In fact, in their incredibly advanced little brains, they’re probably already working out ways to get the vending machine to start giving them peanuts and the coins.


Posted on October 30, 2010, in Fauna and tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. 6 Comments.

  1. Fantastic! The intelligence of corvids is quite astonishing. A couple of years ago we’d left our pick-up truck in a car park outside a supermarket while we went for a walk. All our groceries were in back (no one thinks twice about leaving everything out or unlocked – the country remains like a large village despite its problems!). Returning I noticed something on the rim of the truck making short, rapid movements. Getting closer I saw it was a hooded crow. After it finally flew off I noticed the various packets on the carpark pavement. It was nearing Christmas and we’d been buying a load of nuts to make cakes from. Well the crow had torn open a shopping bag and found the nuts. Only it wasn’t interested in just any kind of nut; it had discarded the walnuts, the hazelnuts and the cashews, tossing them into a rainpool on the ground. What it really wanted was the blanched slivered almonds and had managed to tear open the packet to get at them!!! Who can’t like crows after such a sublime show of style and taste?

    • Though I mourn for your lost almonds, your story actually elicited a good, out-loud belly laugh. Corvids are of endless entertainment to me (mostly because I’ve haven’t been the butt of their pranks very often, I suppose) not only for their antics, but for their discriminating taste. These aren’t mere slaves to their stomachs – they have taste! Expensive taste, usually! How absolutely hilarious that he decided the slivered almonds were the prize. I suspect it’s because they would have been the easiest to eat if the walnuts and hazelnuts weren’t shelled. However I assume they were probably already shelled since you were going to be baking with them? As for the cashews, I don’t know how anything with a brain could pass those up, unless corvids aren’t immune to the poisons in cashews from which humans are safe after the nuts are processed before being sold. Maybe, like any other intelligent creature, he was just picky! Maybe I’ll make a post about my short experiences with the injured raven we had a while back. They truly are magical creatures and if it weren’t for the copious amount of excrement they produce, I would surely have taken that bird home to be my unwilling companion.

  2. I also wanted to mention that it is often after an experience like yours that many people throw their hands up and decide to hate the beasts that have so cleverly foiled us, but you make an excellent point – how could anybody be fooled by a flying brain and not be entranced?

  3. This is awesome! I think that perhaps people are uncomfortable with the magic and cleverness they see in those fierce, beady black eyes. Personally, I love crows. We live in eastern Ontario, and our neighbourhood is FULL of of them. They fill the trees and squawk at us walking our dogs. It adds a real personality to the area :)

    • Hi Kristina! Thanks for stopping by! I totally agree – people are generally uncomfortable with any animal that seems to be intelligent and able to solve problems. In essence, we vilify any animal that behaves as we do! (Which makes me wonder how long it would take for us to wipe about another hominid species if there was one.) If you’re interested, there are some great books on corvids that will give you an even greater perspective on them. Titles include “Bird Brains,” “Corvus: A Life with Birds,” “In the Company of Crows and Ravens,” and “Mind of the Raven.” Those crows you’re seeing have a social structure as complex as ours!

  4. Excellent collection of books concerning corvids. Just to throw one more into the mix, ‘Crow Country’ by Mark Cocker.

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