Crows Capable Of Incredible Speaking Feat In New Study

By Chris Snellgrove | Updated

What if crows were smarter than almost anyone gives them credit for? Certainly, these brainy birds have been known as intelligent avians for a very long time, but recent research indicates they may have more abilities than we thought. Specifically, a study has determined that crows have the ability to count out loud much in the way that humans do.

Crows Count Out Loud

The researchers behind this recent study are led by neuroscientist Diana Liao, and her team provided some great insight into the crows’ unexpected ability to count out loud.

“We show that crows can flexibly produce variable numbers of one to four vocalizations in response to arbitrary cues associated with numerical values.” What this means about the crows’ ability to actually understand what they are saying remains unknown. 

For example, the team acknowledges that “Producing a specific number of vocalizations with purpose requires a sophisticated combination of numerical abilities and vocal control” and that it is unknown “Whether this capacity exists in animals other than humans.”

So, the researchers have discovered some surprising data about crows’ ability to respond to a variety of number-related cues. However, more research is required to fully discover the depth of their knowledge about mathematics.

Much Smarter Than We Realize

crows count

If that knowledge can be proven, it will be a big deal because crows’ having the ability to count out loud would mean they are potentially much smarter than most people think.

The ability to understand the numbers involved would already be impressive, and the ability to use sophisticated vocal control to express that knowledge is even more impressive. The team went into these experiments already knowing that crows knew what zero meant, and they hoped to learn more about the limits of these birds’ mathematical acumen.

The research into whether crows could count out loud was relatively simple: the team had three carrion crows, and each of them was trained how to vocalize the numbers one through four.

After that, the team conducted tests into whether the birds could vocalize the correct number when given various visual or auditory clues (for example, if they saw or heard the number three, they’d have to caw three times). When done, the crow simply had to peck at a specific target to indicate it was finished.

Crows Count Like Human Toddlers

The crow researchers’ found some interesting info indicating that these birds might be able to count out loud with great accuracy. All three birds consistently picked the correct answers, and when errors were made, the bird(s) would only be one number off in either direction.

Interestingly, the team discovered that the crows might be learning to count in the same way that toddlers do, and this has led to new questions about bird communication.

Other Birds May Be Doing Similar Things

crows count

For example, if crows can count, they may not be the only birds who can do so. Other birds may be engaging in very sophisticated communication–for example, chickadees make more of their signature “dee” sounds when they sight larger numbers, and it is possible they have an understanding of counting that allows them to produce more noise in reaction to a greater threat.

Expect More To Come

crows count

As with all great research, this insight into crows’ ability to count has left the researchers with more experiments they want to conduct in the name of science.

For example, it may not be what you’d see in a Disney movie, but further experiments may prove that many birds around the world express very complex ideas whenever they make sounds.

And with the growing evidence that crows learn concepts in the same way that toddlers do, the team is left with the evergreen question of just how smart these awesome avians really are.


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