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Video of Wild Crow Tool Use Caught With Tail Cams 203

Posted by Zonk
from the and-bernd-heinrich-is-well-pleased dept.
willatnewscientist writes "Scientists from the University of Oxford have recorded New Caledonian crows using tools in the wild for first time. The footage was captured by attaching tiny cameras to their tail feathers. The wireless cameras weigh just 14 grammes and can be worn by the crows without disturbing their natural behavior. The trick has provided the first direct evidence of the birds' using tools in the wild and may represent an important development in animal behavior studies. 'The camera also contains a simple radio transmitter that reveals the crows' location. This lets the researchers track them at a distance of few hundred metres, so that they can catch the camera's video signal with a portable receiving dish. Up to 70 minutes of footage can be broadcast by the camera's chip, and the camera is shed once the bird moults its tail feathers.'"
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Video of Wild Crow Tool Use Caught With Tail Cams

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  • Fascinating (Score:5, Funny)

    by ackthpt (218170) * on Friday October 05, 2007 @07:30PM (#20874927) Homepage Journal

    "Scientists from the University of Oxford have recorded New Caledonian crows using tools in the wild for first time. The footage was captured by attaching tiny cameras to their tail feathers. The wireless cameras weigh just 14 grammes and can be worn by the crows without disturbing their natural behavior. The trick has provided the first direct evidence of the birds' using tools in the wild and may represent an important development in animal behavior studies.

    That's pretty neat, we have a lot of crows where I work and I've observed ravens at campgrounds which are very well practiced in employing ingenious methods of

    WHAT! WAIT!

    14 gram video camera? 70 minutes of video footage? Whoa! What's the real news for nerds story here? Damn, I need one of those cameras!!! (c= I've been fiddling with converting these webcams for astro imaging I wonder what I could take from the top of (or bottom of) a kite or one of those tiny helicopters. W0000t

    Crows, yeah, very clever birds. Probably could learn a lot from them... wow, neat camera...

    • Re: (Score:2, Insightful)

      by Animats (122034)

      70 minutes is probably the battery life, not the recording time. It's a transmitter, not a recorder.

    • Re:Fascinating (Score:5, Informative)

      by Bios_Hakr (68586) <xptical@nOSPAM.gmail.com> on Saturday October 06, 2007 @02:02AM (#20877067) Homepage
      I fly RC helis. Even the smaller ones can carry a 200-gram camera with no problem. I've put a small Sony CyberShot on mine and shot some video.

      The big problem is vibration. Even is the bigger electrics there is still a lot of HF vibration. It's no so bad when you take shots of the flying field. It sucks when you are trying to spy on the co-eds next door...

      Some people have had good luck putting a camera on a motor-assisted sailplane (a.k.a. hotliner) and sending it up 800-feet or so. You turn off the motor and slow the plane way down to get minimal vibration.

      Search YouTube for "RC heli on-board video" or, even better, search for "hotliner".
    • by jeremie (257)
      There's some additional detail about the custom system they used in a PDF they published:

      http://users.ox.ac.uk/~kgroup/publications/pdf/Rutz_crowcams_SOM.pdf [ox.ac.uk]

    • I thought you might have figured it out by now-

      The article only barely hints at it, but those cameras
      were actually built by and attached to by the crows themselves!

      They are reportedly now building tiny lethal lasers to attach to their legs

      I for one, bow... well, you get the point.


  • by Scareduck (177470) on Friday October 05, 2007 @07:31PM (#20874937) Homepage Journal
    Crows Gone Wild video.
  • question (Score:5, Funny)

    by User 956 (568564) on Friday October 05, 2007 @07:34PM (#20874951) Homepage
    The wireless cameras weigh just 14 grammes and can be worn by the crows without disturbing their natural behavior.

    It doesn't disturb them? What is the airspeed velocity of an unladen crow?
  • by linuxwrangler (582055) on Friday October 05, 2007 @07:36PM (#20874971)
    ...to get this damn camera unstuck from my tail?!?
  • obligitary (Score:2, Funny)

    by NiceGeek (126629)
    I for one, welcome our tool-using crow overlords.
  • clever crows (Score:5, Informative)

    by wizardforce (1005805) on Friday October 05, 2007 @07:39PM (#20875007) Journal
    but this isnt the first time we've known they use tools. check this out http://video.google.com/videoplay?docid=-7329182515885554944 [google.com] [clever crows]
    • but this isnt the first time we've known they use tools.

      We (humans) have known about many species of birds that use tools for many varied and complex tasks. This story submission is about our (humans) new method for increased observation of birds, and some of the findings.

      It's too bad some moderators (Zonk again?) have moderated posts like Meta-Observation of Humans [slashdot.org] down as offtopic. Now that is some truely bird-brained behavior worth of future study.

  • Old News (Score:5, Informative)

    by Yold (473518) on Friday October 05, 2007 @07:39PM (#20875009)
    Crows have been observed using tools before. A particularly interesting instance of this is when they drop nuts into crosswalks at intersections, wait until cars smash them, observe the pedestrians crossing the street (its safe to cross), and retrieve the nut's meat.

    Birds are damn smart, like that talking parrot who just died.
    • Re:Old News (Score:5, Funny)

      by FinchWorld (845331) on Friday October 05, 2007 @07:46PM (#20875081) Homepage
      Birds are damn smart, like that talking parrot who just died.

      No, no, 'e's uh,...he's resting.

    • http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Aesop's_Fables [wikipedia.org]

      http://www.ongoing-tales.com/SERIALS/oldtime/FAIRYTALES/aesop8.html [ongoing-tales.com]

      A THIRSTY Crow found a Pitcher with some water in it, but so little was there that, try as she might, she could not reach it with her beak, and it seemed as though she would die of thirst within sight of the remedy. At last she hit upon a clever plan. She began dropping pebbles into the Pitcher, and with each pebble the water rose a little higher until at last it reached the brim, and the knowing bird was enabled to quench her thirst.

      Moral: Necessity is the mother of invention.


      crows and ravens are seen as an intelligent and trickster characters in many ancient cultures around the world, some notable examples of prominent intelligent and tricky crow mythology being from the pacific northwest of north america, and ancient scandinavia

      http://www.pubmedcentral.nih.gov/articlerender.fcgi?artid=1326277 [nih.gov]

    • Re:Old News (Score:5, Funny)

      by Al Al Cool J (234559) on Friday October 05, 2007 @08:05PM (#20875263)
      I hate crows. Whenever I see crows dropping nuts onto the street, I run in and steal the nuts. Then I wave my fists at the stupid crows, shout insults, and cackle hysterically. Ah, good times.
      • Re:Old News (Score:4, Funny)

        by UbuntuDupe (970646) on Friday October 05, 2007 @10:08PM (#20875979) Journal
        Speaking of which...

        Do you think crows debate if humans are intelligent?
      • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

        by wandlerer (1036418)
        I discovered ravens are very intelligent and very territorial one spring. The morning after a particularly violent windstorm I walked beneath some trees to get to the parking lot in my apartment complex. I failed to understand the distress calls of the crows circling above. I narrowly missed stepping on a nest that had been dislodged by the wind, with a baby bird in it. As I exited the cover of the trees all of the birds started circling me, and diving toward me to protect the nest.

        Each day, a group of
    • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

      by Yold (473518)
      BTW, crows, parrots, and woodpeckers all have enlarged cerebellar portions of the brain, which corresponds to high levels of visual acuity, being able to analyze visual input, and then solve abstract problems. Read more here: http://people.eku.edu/ritchisong/birdbrain.html [eku.edu]

      • Re:Old News (Score:5, Interesting)

        by Rei (128717) on Saturday October 06, 2007 @12:06AM (#20876607) Homepage
        I'll second that about parrots. By the first year and a half of life, my yellow-headed amazon has:

        * Learned to take apart wooden clothespins in consistently under 30 seconds.
        * Undo the clasps on my shirt, likewise quickly
        * Remove my earrings, often before I can stop him.
        * Take apart metal kitchen magnets -- the ones with the tough-to-open spring clip on them. We gave him one the first time because we figured he couldn't damage it; we didn't see a way. Instead, he figured out that the pin mechanism was removable, pulled the pin out, opened it up, took out the spring, etc. We gave him a pack of them for fun, and he got taking them apart down to under 30 seconds.
        * Outsmarting me on treat ball placement. At under six months old, we were trying to convince him to stand on his "cladder" -- a toy of shifting wooden squares that he hates. We hung it next to his "boing", which he loves, and then hung a treat ball on a thin rope (too thin for him to climb on) past the cladder, so he'd have to step on the cladder to get the treats. All of them hung from a common heavy diagonal support cord. It kept appearing like my partner was making the problem easier for him; I kept finding the treat ball wrapped around the cladder, propped next to the boing, and the treats eaten. I eventually caught Mal (my parrot) in the act: he climbed the support rope up to the treat ball's rope, grabbed onto it with his beak, then climbed down the support rope while holding onto it. Then, back at the boing, he wrapped it around the edge of the cladder so it'd stay in place and he could eat at his leisure. How old of a human child do you think it'd take to solve something like that? I'd guess somewhere between two and four years, no?
        * Recognizes self in mirror (never treats it like another bird; always casual around mirrors. If he reacts at all, it's just to preen).

        One thing I *haven't* observed, however, is tool use. We'll see if he ever picks it up. I've never really put him in a situation where he'd need to use tools. I've only read of one case of parrots using tools (one was documented as using one of its feathers to help preen itself). Corvines (crows and ravens) seem much more into tool use.

        Linguistically, while they're "capable", they're still orders of magnitude behind humans. Even still, he doesn't fail to impress me. He calls us by name -- for example, if he's with one person, he calls for the other, or if someone starts cooking in the kitchen, he calls for them, 9 times out of 10). He's potty trained, in the respect that if we ask him to go, and he hasn't gone recently, he will; however, he won't always tell us when he needs to go or head off on his own, so if we forget to offer it to him and wait too long, he'll go where he is. He puts together *very* rudimentary sentences; the only prefix he knows to use is "I want". He learned it with "I want up" (in comparison to our command for him, "Up"), but he tags it onto other things he hears us say. For example, we often say things like "breakfast ready" or "breakfast soon" when we're fixing it (we speak with a simplified language around him), and he's started saying "I want breakfast" when he sees us in the kitchen in the morning. It's funny how he also applies things to his own situations. For example, he'll sometimes say "I go upstairs" when he climbs the little ladder on top of his playtop (we say it when we go up the living room stairs). He also has invented a tradition of "kissing" before meals. Rather than go straight for our food (which we always share with him), he'll walk over to us on the back of the couch and say, "Kiss!" and kiss us several times before going down to eat. I'm not sure why he came up with that (we never made him kiss before meals), but it sure is cute ;) Of his whole vocabulary of 50-100 words and phrases (somewhere in that range), the only "nonsensical" or "random" thing he says (excepting the typical amazon "happy talk" before he goes to bed) is "apple". It has no correlation with wanting an apple or anything like that. He probably picked it up because he inserts it at random times when it's amusing, causing us to laugh and pay attention to him (i.e., positive reinforcement).
        • by mqduck (232646)
          Dude, your parrot is awesome.
        • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

          by Reziac (43301) *
          My sister's parrot is pretty creative with what little language he knows. If you call out for a person he knows, he will answer in that person's voice (then you have to go check if the person or the parrot answered you).

          He is jealous of their dog. He calls the dog, "Jaz, come!", then tells him "Jaz, sit" and after the dog obligingly does so, the parrot yells "BAD DOG!"

      • by Fred_A (10934)
        Crows are also among the few animals able to learn by observation, that is by watching another perform an act to solve a problem and then repeating the steps themselves when confronted to the same problem.
        I've seen this done with octopus as well which can also solve fairly complex problems.
        (and a number of primates of course)
        I have magpies (which are basically small crows, like ravens are) living behind my appt, they are always very interesting to watch. :)
    • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

      by OYAHHH (322809) *
      I,

      Have a couple of crows that raise a chick or two in my neighborhood each year. Around May/June they get real cranky as the chicks start leaving the nest and hanging around my backyard.

      What is interesting is that the parents will land in a tree branch directly above me and then proceed to pluck twigs and drop them on me.

      While a lot of people seem to really dislike crows, I personally am enthralled by their ability to grasp just exactly what sort of thing might make me leave the premises.
    • by fm6 (162816)
      I don't think that quite counts as tool use. A tool is device you operate. If you use a rock to crack a nut, then the rock is a tool. But if you throw the nut against a wall, you're not using the wall as a tool.

      That said, those crows who figured out nuts left in the roadway will be crushed open by passing cars are showing definite signs of creative intelligence. I don't suppose it matters whether their smarts deserve the label "tool use" or not.
      • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

        by lgw (121541)
        Using the environment to solve problems counts as tool use. It doesn't count as tool making, which is a more limited category. Very few species will create a tool to solve a problem, going beyond just using what they find around. Heck, I've known people who aren't that bright.
        • by fm6 (162816)
          You're redefining "tool use" so that it means the same thing as "problem solving". The latten term is more descriptive.
      • so... burning DVDs isn't tool use unless you do it with a handheld laser that you flicker on and off yourself while spinning the disk on your finger?
    • A two minutes and 13 seconds YouTube video [youtube.com] from VideoSift [videosift.com].
    • Birds are damn smart, like that talking parrot who just died

      It doesn't take a big mechanism to be powerful, does it? Intelligence can be implemented in a small volume, and I suppose we had all better be careful. A camera doesn't have to be large at all, and someone can be spying on you remotely.
    • It had to be at least a year ago, probably two, that I watched a TV program (Discovery Channel? don't remember) in which a crow was using a stick as a tool for poking into holes. I saw it very clearly on TV. So I do not see what is new about this.
    • by Tim C (15259)
      The news isn't that they use tools; the news is that this is the first time that wild crows have been filmed using tools.
  • by Anonymous Coward on Friday October 05, 2007 @07:41PM (#20875025)
    http://youtube.com/watch?v=HmKO-QMyLc4 [youtube.com]

    Dropping nuts on a busy road where cars function as nutcrackers..
    • by Atario (673917)
      The crows (and other birds, I think) near my parents' house, where I grew up, did the same thing 20 years ago at least. Not a busy street, though; I think the attempt is to break the shell by impact with the street. Sometimes it takes repeated attempts. And sometimes they use things other than the street (like our roof. Nothing like a sudden unwarranted THUMP from overhead at 11pm to induce consternation).
  • by Aladrin (926209)
    So what they're saying is that these crows are smarter than some humans?

    I kid, I kid!

    I find it fascinating that there are species that we thought would be completely unable to grasp the idea of tool use doing just that. It goes to show just how little we really know about how brains work, and how big they need to be to handle complex concepts.

    When the crows start making little axes, I'd start to worry, though.
    • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

      by DragonWriter (970822)

      I find it fascinating that there are species that we thought would be completely unable to grasp the idea of tool use doing just that.


      I think its fascinating that people think that creatures generally need to "grasp the idea" of doing something to be able to do it.

      • by Cadallin (863437)
        Exactly, how many human computer users do so completely through conditioned responses with no understanding of why their actions achieve the ends that they seek?
      • "I think its fascinating that people think that creatures generally need to "grasp the idea" of doing something to be able to do it."

        Perhaps "grasp the benifit" is more apt as a comparison to human behaviour.
    • by Joe Tie. (567096)
      Even aside from having similar behavior documented in the lab, it's not that surprising. The ratio of body mass to brain size, adjusted to the differences in birds, comes out extremely high for most in the corvid family. I don't mean to say it's not an amazing feat, either that of the birds or that we captured it. However, it's nothing that isn't in line with the data from the past ten years or so.
  • Oh, great (Score:4, Funny)

    by Deadstick (535032) on Friday October 05, 2007 @07:50PM (#20875115)
    Now I'll have to wear a hat to the Home Despot...

    rj
  • by jerkychew (80913) on Friday October 05, 2007 @07:54PM (#20875161) Homepage
    Sorry, but the great scientist Gary Larson documented this phenomenon years ago. See http://www.curiosities.com/sp/CD6044.asp?afID=goocd6044&img=L [curiosities.com] (Sorry, I couldn't find a better link)
  • by dstone (191334) on Friday October 05, 2007 @08:00PM (#20875209) Homepage
    Bashing away with a stick is one thing.

    But having limited success with a tool and then modifying the same tool to suit the problem at hand is an even more impressive display of intelligence, I think...

    http://youtube.com/watch?v=03ykewnc0oE [youtube.com] (Crow fails to grab something with straight wire, so it bends it into a hook.)
    • by pembo13 (770295)
      i wonder what percentage of "modern" humans would pass that test
    • by Yold (473518)
      1. Google "crows tools"
      2. ??????????
      3. Karma!
    • by evilviper (135110)

      (Crow fails to grab something with straight wire, so it bends it into a hook.)

      I bet he's smarter than most /.ers, what with being able to tell the difference between a raven and a crow.
  • by Nymz (905908) on Friday October 05, 2007 @08:04PM (#20875251) Journal

    FTA - "We attach the camera to the tail feathers so the lens pokes out under the belly," says Rutz.
    We attach cameras to the tails of birds, to satellites traveling past Jupiter right now, to carseats for police officers on the job, to every convenience store entrance/exit/aisle/cash register, to street corners filled with cars and pedestrians, to tubes inserted into our own bodies for surgery and examinations. Is there anything we haven't attached a camera to and recorded?
  • by Al Al Cool J (234559) on Friday October 05, 2007 @08:07PM (#20875277)
    I thought the camera added 20 pounds. I guess black really is slimming.
  • by aldheorte (162967) on Friday October 05, 2007 @08:17PM (#20875341)
    In the book the "In the Company of Crows and Ravens", crows on the researchers' campus could distinguish two researchers out of thousands of people and would continually harangue them whenever they were seen as they were rather displeased at previously being captured and manhandled. I wonder how these crows are responding to surveillance and the ability of the human researchers to track them wherever they go? Are any of them self aware enough to know that the device is associated with humans and remove it? What can we learn from them about operating in a society where people are increasingly under constant surveillance? A paranoid might say that its their tail feathers now, but your equivalent is on the line next. :)
    • by Jeremi (14640)
      Are any of them self aware enough to know that the device is associated with humans and remove it?


      Well, the articled did mention that they had to put the cameras on a timer, otherwise they only got footage of the crow attempting to remove the camera...

    • by spud603 (832173)
      That's really impressive in itself...
      I know that I would have a very hard time identifying two particular crows out of a group of 1000. I always thought that cross-species face recognition was really tricky -- you have to be wired for your species' face to really be good at it. I guess I was wrong.
  • Birds using twigs for complicated purposes?

    That's unheard of!
    • by Jozer99 (693146)
      Agreed, there are quite a few species that use tools. Chimps and gorillas use twigs to get at ants, birds use sticks and drop nuts onto streets and rocks to crack them.

      The real sign of intelligence is to MAKE tools as opposed to just picking up twigs.
      • This species (C. moneduloides) doesn't just "use twigs". They make and use a number of tools. For one, they tear off a strip of Pandanus leaf which is barbed on one side and use the hooks to fish grubs out of logs. To do this, they have to cut it out in a fairly precise pattern which has a number of steps on one side to taper it down to a point (maximises flexibility, minimises weight).

        Another type of tool involves them chopping a j-shaped twig off a branch and shaping the j into a fish-hook like tool. You
  • by Tweekster (949766) on Friday October 05, 2007 @08:19PM (#20875361)
    I should probably check before I shoot the loud ones in my neibhorhood. Make sure they dont have any tools. Those bastards are in season right now in my city. Every spring/fall it is necessary to drop a couple, otherwise they just take over and squak for hours.
  • Holy Crap (Score:3, Funny)

    by DumbSwede (521261) <slashdotbin@hotmail.com> on Friday October 05, 2007 @08:34PM (#20875457) Journal
    Did anyone else notice the Bird taking a dump at the very beginning of the clip???
  • Sorry, I had to ask.

    Semi-seriously, imagine the applications for this technology. Trained crows getting shots of places that only crows can go. Imagine video of Ballmer chair throwing events, and other clandestine Microsoft sporting events visible currently only to crows. We don't want that kind of footage locked down in Microsoft Windows Media formats. We want to be able to exchange our crow footage easily via the Internet Archive, so that we can incorporate our crow footage into community-based video projects, such as the Internet Archive's Digital Tipping Point Video Collection [archive.org], which uses Ogg Theora formats.

    Soon, YouTube soon will be hosting crow video feed competitions. We don't want that precious footage locked down, either.

    Which raises the next question, of course, and it is more near and dear to /. readers' hearts: penguin video!
    • I noticed the majority of your post was bashing Microsoft for some reason. Maybe you should talk to a professional about your hate.
      • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

        by Jeremi (14640)
        Maybe you should talk to a professional about your hate.


        You mean like a hit man? I know Ballmer is annoying, but really -- isn't that taking it a bit far?

      • @WhatAmIdoingHere:

        I noticed the majority of your post was bashing Microsoft for some reason. Maybe you should talk to a professional about your hate.
        IMHO, you are being overly sensitive.
  • that the crows were using tools to try and pry the cameras off their asses.
  • by FauxReal (653820) on Friday October 05, 2007 @10:50PM (#20876185) Homepage
    Think of it, free wireless broadcasting miniature cameras with tracking capabilities. Free spy toys!

    Just look around for crow feathers, they'll fall off long after the scientists lose the ability to track them.
  • by edwardpickman (965122) on Friday October 05, 2007 @11:14PM (#20876293)
    Great, Crows using tools! Now they have an even cheaper source of labor to outsource American jobs to.
  • NewScientist published an article [newscientist.com] a while back about chimps in the Congo using spears to kill bushbabies. Thrusting the spears into hollow trees and checking the tips for blood.

    Pretty interesting stuff.
  • by ZDRuX (1010435)

    "Scientists from the University of Oxford have recorded New Caledonian crows using tools in the wild for first time.
    Am I the only one who read the first few lines and though "hmm, crows using tools? Such as hammers and screw drivers? AMAZING!"
    • by joto (134244)

      Am I the only one who read the first few lines and though "hmm, crows using tools? Such as hammers and screw drivers? AMAZING!"
      Yeah, but do they have the proper understanding required to be passive consumers, and define their personality through what they buy? I believe that untill crows start getting immersed in consumer fads and trends, that there still must be some difference between us.
  • Wait, are they entirely sure that what they attached to the bird was small cameras, not, perhaps, small black monoliths, just before the birds were first observed using tools? OK, OK, they were probably pretty sure they were cameras, but they weren't black and monolith shaped, were they? Just checking here.
  • Nobody's mentioned this yet? Alfred Hitchcock's The Birds?

    They're clearly organizing!

Somebody ought to cross ball point pens with coat hangers so that the pens will multiply instead of disappear.

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