City Cast

Portland's Crows Are Smarter Than You Think

Rachel Monahan
Posted on September 28
Crow standing on dirt in the rain, in Portland, Oregon

American crows aren't hard to spot in Portland. (Getty Images / John C Magee)

American crows are incredibly common. If you’ve never been curious about them, here are a few nuggets to pique your interest as you see them noisily going about their business in our city:

  • American crows, like other birds, can see the color ultraviolet, which is invisible to humans.
  • Corvids, the family of birds to which crows belong, are among the most intelligent species on earth. Only humans and one species of corvid, New Caledonian crows, are able to not only use tools, but also to fashion them. (Not even apes have been found to do that.)
Two crows on a wire in Portland, Oregon

One crow appears to feed the other. (Getty Images / John C Magee)

  • American crows can recognize individual humans, and they can remember them. They might even pass on the knowledge of an individual being a threat to their young, according to the research of University of Washington professor John Marzluff.
  • How do small crow brains manage to process such complex information? Scientists think that it's because their neurons (brain cells) are packed much closer together than human neurons.
  • Another thing that helps American crows survive and thrive: They live in families. Siblings often stick around to take care of younger crows.

I got interested in crows from a kids' book called “Science Comics: Crows, Genius Birds.” I recommend it for younger friends, as well as adults. Marzluff has his own book, “Gifts of the Crow,” for a general audience as well, and there are various documentaries on his work.

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