Corvid Intelligence

by Skip Via

(Update: It’s now Dec 23 2020 and they’re still daily visitors to the seed, suet, and peanut butter feeders.)

The corvidae family of birds includes ravens, crows, magpies, jays, nutcrackers, and several other species known to be highly intelligent and capable of learning. This article suggests that ravens have the capacity for abstract thought, and this one demonstrates evidence of the same kinds of intelligence in crows. And anyone who has had the experience of having food stolen from their hands by a gray jay who has waited patiently for the perfect time to strike knows how intelligent those birds are.

I’ve seen an interesting example of corvid intelligence in my yard this fall. At least three pairs of eastern blue jays (see this article) have taken up long term residences in the ponderosa pines in and around my property for the past several weeks. We see them multiple times daily, always amazed that they are still here instead of moving on.

We have several feeders on our property that we keep full all winter. One in particular is a squirrel-proof feeder, acquired when we lived in Alaska and grew tired of the local squirrels taking all the food. (We’ve only encountered the occasional squirrel in our valley neighborhood thanks to the presence of a variety of raptors (great horned owls, red-tailed hawks, Cooper’s hawks, bald eagles) that frequent the edge of the agricultural land behind our property.) The perch around the feeder is spring loaded. If there is too much weight on the perch, it will close down the feeding ports. Squirrels are far too heavy to keep the ports open, but 5-6 pine siskins can feed at the same time.

As it turns out, one blue jay can feed successfully, but when two perch at the same time, their combined weight denies them the ability to feed. I watched them trying to feed for a day or so, but then I noticed something. They had figured out that they could all feed if they take turns. Several jays will arrive at the feeder, one on the feeding perch and the others perched on nearby limbs or waiting on the ground. When the first jay finishes, the next one takes its turn. This goes on until they have all acquired food. This appears to be learned behavior as a result of analyzing a problem and coming up with a solution.

To this point I have been unsuccessful in getting any photos or videos of this behavior, but watch this space…

One Reply to “Corvid Intelligence”

  1. Pingback: Nutcrackers revisited – West Valley Naturalists

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