New Caledonian Crows—the Bird Geniuses—Blow Our Minds Again

By Andrew Moseman | September 16, 2010 2:45 pm

From Ed Yong:

In New Caledonia, an island off the eastern coast of Australia, a crow is hunting for beetle grubs. The larvae are hidden within a decaying tree trunk, which might seem like an impregnable fortress. But the New Caledonian crow is smarter than the average bird. It uses a stick to probe the tunnels where the grubs are sheltered. The grubs bite at intruders with powerful jaws but here, that defensive reflex seals their fate; when they latch onto the stick, the crow pulls them out.

This technique is not easy. Birds need a lot of practice to pull it off and even veterans can spend a lot of time fishing out a single grub. The insects are fat, juicy and nutritious but do they really warrant the energy spent on extracting them? The answer is a resounding yes.

Check out the rest of this post, including video of the crows at work, at Not Exactly Rocket Science. (The video above, of the birds making hooks, is from a different study a few years ago.)

And for plenty more about bird geniuses, be sure to read the DISCOVER feature “Who You Callin’ Bird Brain?” It includes more avian smarts, such as hiding food underground and going back later to move it, just in case other birds were watching the first time and thought about stealing a meal.

Related Content:
80beats: Not So Bird-Brained After All: Rooks Make and Use Tools
Not Exactly Rocket Science: Clever New Caledonian crows use one tool to acquire another
Not Exactly Rocket Science: Confirming Aesop – rooks use stones to raise the level of water in a pitcher

  • GlidingPig

    I suspect many more animals are much smarter than we give them credit for.

  • nick

    These dinosaurs didn’t survive the extinction of the rest and evolve for 65 million more years for nothin. Just because we can’t understand them doesn’t mean they’re not intelligent, it only means we’re barely intelligent enough to recognize other kinds of intelligence. We just got lucky and dominated first.

    I can’t imagine why we think we’re going to be able to notice extra-terrestrial intelligence if it takes us so long to understand the rest of what we got here.

  • amphiox


    There’s a difference between “notice” and “understand”. We had no trouble whatsoever “noticing” the intelligence of corvids – they’ve always been considered to be cunning and intelligent critters, for longer than we’ve had writing, and in all likelihood longer than we’ve had civilization, maybe even longer than we’ve been our current species.

  • Zachary

    @nick I thought the modern consensus was that birds split from dinosaurs at roughly the same time as the main archosaur branching? Due to the knee-running and seemingly incongruous fossil evidence of avian fossils pre-dating theropod evolution?

  • amphiox


    That’s the BAND (birds are not dinosaurs) position, and it is most definitely not consensus. Not even close.

  • Markoff Chaney

    Nor dashed a thousand kim

  • Kasi Horman

    Thank you for providing valuable info about the niche. I’m a follower of the website. Keep up the fantastic perform.


Discover's Newsletter

Sign up to get the latest science news delivered weekly right to your inbox!


80beats is DISCOVER's news aggregator, weaving together the choicest tidbits from the best articles covering the day's most compelling topics.

See More

Collapse bottom bar