Okay, we’ve trashed the Public Works department enough, even if they left us holding the bag (of garbage.) Let’s change the subject for a moment, to consider an interesting experience I had while shooting photos for my previous blog.
The garbage truck continued down the street last Monday morning, leaving behind a ruckus of students and other angry residents moving their un-emptied refuse containers back onto their properties. A flock of crows swarmed in right away, settling down for breakfast on a still full trash can. I wondered how they knew they were free and clear, the threat of pickup gone, to start their feasting.
Approaching the scavenging birds, I noticed a crow fly away from the swarm to stand guard and to loudly crow at me while I took aim with my camera. I told the noisemaker I intended no harm, but each time I lifted my camera the bird went crazy, clearly communicating with its mates.
Fleetingly, I recalled a walk my husband and I took on the beach last Christmas, when we chuckled at a particular seagull that was clearly more evolved than its buddies. The bird had caught a live clam and was deliberately dropping it—not on the wet sand like all the others, but on the hardwood fishing pier. It circled round again to the same wooden plank until the clam broke open.
Intelligent behavior from seagulls and crows?
Turns out yes. Crows, which humans have begun to study only recently, have apparently been studying us for a long time. They are smarter than primates and more complex than we might imagine.
On Tuesday, the day after our trash was left behind, the PBS “Nature” program did a segment on crows. Scientists explained that crows communicate with each other, and are highly adaptive. They are very social and can have family relationships in a nest for up to five years, surrounded by parents and siblings who groom and feed each other, despite the fact that each can gather its own food. It’s the socializing that increases learning.
They distinguish and remember human faces, and have the ability to put that information to use at a later time. During the program, researchers demonstrated that parents may pass this knowledge to offspring.
Another experiment showed complex and cognitive thinking--a crow chose a small tool--to dislodge a larger tool—to reach a morsel of food. Like humans, crows are omnivores meaning they eat a wide variety of plant and animal food—another aspect of higher intelligence. They are agile thinkers when it comes to collecting and storing food, called “food caching.” If they sense a threat to their food stores, they might create a diversionary cache of food to distract an interloper.
So who knew? Milford Beach crows are watching and learning patterns, and passing that information to their young. They recognize the haphazard performance of Public Works employees, and are "caching" in on it.