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16 Unnerving Facts About Corvids Most People Don't Know

Updated June 15, 2020 29.5k views16 items

The term "bird brain" is often used to describe someone that acts foolishly or unintelligently. But if you know anything about corvids, you know there are lots of extremely smart birds. Corvids are a type of bird that belongs to what's more commonly known as the crow family. Ravens, jays, and crows - all members of the corvidae family - are arguably the smartest birds in the world. There are plenty of animals with magnificent brains and intelligence, but corvids have an intelligence that is all their own. For being so small, these birds can do a lot of amazing things with their mind. 

Why are corvids so smart? There are several different factors that contribute to the superior intelligence of these animals. There are plenty of interesting and amazing corvid facts, and once you read about them here, maybe you'll even start using bird brain as a compliment. 

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  • They Love To Play Pranks

    Nobody is safe when it comes to being the butt of a corvid’s joke. Corvids love to play pranks on humans and other animals. Corvids use their intelligence and ability to mimic sounds for their own personal amusement. One zookeeper noted the magpies would mimic the voice of the employee responsible for feeding the chickens. The chickens would come running, but there would be no food. The magpies would do this again and again to the chickens, who never got wise to the prank.

  • Corvid Parents Will Adopt Other Birds

    Cornell University researchers were studying crows when they observed baby crows whose parents died from West Nile. The neighbor crows took them into their nest and cared for them. These adopted crows didn’t let the deed go unnoticed, and they stuck around to help out their new mom raise her babies even when they were grown enough to leave. In another incident, researchers saw a fledgling blue jay showing up at a crow’s nest. Crows are generally known to kill and feed on fledgling birds. However, this jay was spared. It stuck around to beg for food and was first ignored by the parents of the nest. But then it became included in the meals and was fed multiple times by the crows along with their own babies.

  • Seed Sorters Have Huge Hippocampi

    Species of birds that store food - specifically corvids - have larger hippocampi than other types of birds. The hippocampus is the part of the brain that controls memory. Clark’s nutcrackers have a large hippocampal complex relative to both body and total brain size. They have better spatial memory and do better with tests involving food caching and retrieval. This is common among seed storing birds as a result of natural selection. Obviously, if you can’t remember where you put your food, you won’t be able to eat. And that makes it hard to survive in the animal kingdom. Interestingly enough, researchers found that the same species of birds held in captivity and given access to seeds did not have the same amount of hippocampal neurons as their peers in the wild.

  • Some Have Large Forebrains, Just Like Primates

    Some Have Large Forebrains, Just Like Primates
    Photo: Bombtime / Wikimedia Commons / CC-BY-SA 3.0

    Even though the entire size of a corvid's brain is smaller than extremely intelligent mammals like primates, that doesn’t mean it isn't as smart. A corvid's intelligence is thanks to its density of neurons. Corvids with larger brains actually have the same amount of or more neurons in their forebrain than primates with bigger brains. From the outside, it appears that bird brains are very different, structurally speaking, than mammalian brains. However, a look inside shows many of the prominent parts of the corvid forebrain match up with the cortex in mammals. These areas play similar roles in the higher cognitive functions.