Animal Emotions

Do animals think and feel?

Crows and tools: Calling someone a birdbrain can be a compliment

Young crows learn to make tools in 'tool school'

When someone tells me that I'm acting like an animal I often say "thanks a lot" because many animals are cooperative, fair-minded, compassionate, and empathic beings. (see also) Individuals of any different species perform amazing cognitive tasks and the list keeps growing and growing. Recently it was discovered that bees are better than computers in solving certain problems and now we know that New Caledonian crows, who are renowned for their ability to make and use complex tools, teach youngsters to make tools in what are called "tool schools". These crows are renowned for making the most complex tools in the animal kingdom except for humans. 

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New Caledonian crows are highly intelligent and live in small family groups and this provides the opportunity for youngsters to fashion and use tools by watching adults perform these activities. Researchers from the University of Auckland disovered that parents actually take their young to specific sites when they can practice these skills and that "crows develop their tool-using abilities by 'keeping in in the family'". The youngsters may also learn from their parents mistakes.

So, the next time someone says "Oh, you're a birdbrain" you can say "thanks" and walk away with your head held high. 

Marc Bekoff, Ph.D., is Professor Emeritus of Ecology and Evolutionary Biology at the University of Colorado, Boulder.

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