Catch up on stories from the past week (and beyond) at the Slashdot story archive


Forgot your password?
Science Technology

Video of Wild Crow Tool Use Caught With Tail Cams 203

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.'"
This discussion has been archived. No new comments can be posted.

Video of Wild Crow Tool Use Caught With Tail Cams

Comments Filter:
  • Re:So... (Score:3, Interesting)

    by DragonWriter ( 970822 ) on Friday October 05, 2007 @07:49PM (#20875105)

    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 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... [] (Crow fails to grab something with straight wire, so it bends it into a hook.)
  • 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 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.
  • Re:Fascinating (Score:5, Interesting)

    by mikael ( 484 ) on Friday October 05, 2007 @08:33PM (#20875445)
    There was a guy in Germany, who made a Cat Cam - basically a keyring camera combined with a microcontroller to provide high-resolution timelapse images. Look at the Mr Lee Cat cam for some stories. []
  • Re:Old News (Score:3, Interesting)

    by Yold ( 473518 ) on Friday October 05, 2007 @08:41PM (#20875513)
    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: []

  • Re:Old News (Score:3, Interesting)

    by OYAHHH ( 322809 ) * on Friday October 05, 2007 @08:43PM (#20875523) Homepage

    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.
  • What tools? (Score:1, Interesting)

    by BlueF ( 550601 ) on Friday October 05, 2007 @09:34PM (#20875821)
    What sort of "tools" did they film? Nothing specific mentioned in the article.
  • 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.
  • 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).
  • Re:Old News (Score:3, Interesting)

    by wandlerer ( 1036418 ) on Saturday October 06, 2007 @02:22AM (#20877153) Journal
    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 5 ravens would sit on the roof of the apartment complex and at the sight of me leaving - either from the apartment or the car - they would take flight, circle and dive until I was inside. Most of this journey was on pavement, far from the trees.

    I don't know how common it is to be attacked by ravens, but I am not embarrassed to admit that I was both freaked out and scared by this. To hear them before I left each morning, and see them take flight as soon as I was just outside the door made the hair on the back of my neck stand up. It also didn't matter what time I got back from work, as they were there waiting for something/someone all day, and as soon as I was visible, they were at it again. The immediate solution was to to take an old stick and wave it above my head to limit them to 3 feet or more above my head during their attacks. I'm sure it seemed strange to the neighbors to see someone walking to/from the car waving a stick in the air the whole time.

    As good an experiment it would have been to see how long the birds would remember, I had the opportunity to move less than 2 months later, and I didn't hesitate to jump at it. The funny thing is that before I left, the nest was empty - and as nobody else had a reason to walk that particular route through the trees, I believe the little bird went on to fly away safely. Why they were after me the whole time still baffles - and scares - me.
  • Re:Fascinating (Score:1, Interesting)

    by nilbud ( 1155087 ) on Saturday October 06, 2007 @12:35PM (#20880335) Homepage Journal
    Angelina Jolie's ass ...
  • by Anonymous Coward on Saturday October 06, 2007 @02:38PM (#20881225)
    I took a class with Kacelnik (the professor in charge of this research group) back at Oxford and he showed us videos of these crows in the lab. In one of them there was a male and female in an enclosure. A nut was placed in a tube-like device so the crow would have to use a tool (the right sized twig) to push it through the tubes until in came out the other end.

    What ended up happening was that the female got to work straight away, pushing the twig through the tiny hole to manipulate the nut through the bends, while the male just sat back and watched. Eventually, after much trouble, she managed to push it out the other side and the male just swooped in and took it away. All the girls in the class just nodded knowingly...
  • Re:Old News (Score:3, Interesting)

    by Reziac ( 43301 ) * on Sunday October 07, 2007 @02:36PM (#20889597) Homepage Journal
    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!"

If I have seen farther than others, it is because I was standing on the shoulders of giants. -- Isaac Newton