These crows have skills that were only seen in people previously

The corvids are the first known species, except humans, to make a specific number of sounds when given instructions. Crows are aware of their numbers. Through an experiment, these birds demonstrated an ability to count their own cries, a numerical ability previously only observed in humans.

According to neurologist Giorgio Vallortigara of the University of Trento in Rovereto, Italy, studying how animals comprehend numbers will aid researchers in their investigation into the biological roots of humanity’s aptitude for mathematics. He observes that it “is actually a very impressive achievement” for birds to be able to emit a deliberate number of vocalizations on cue, as the birds in the experiment did.

The cognitive flexibility of these corvids is astounding, according to Andreas Nieder, an animal physiologist at the University of Tübingen in Germany and co-author of the study published on May 23 in Science. “They once again demonstrated their reputation as being very intelligent and smart.”

One murderThe researchers used three Corvus corones (carrion crows) that they had previously trained to caw on command. Over several months, the researchers trained the birds to associate the expected number of sounds with visual cues, a screen displaying the numbers 1, 2, 3, or 4. Later, the researchers additionally exposed the birds to four aural stimuli, each associated with a unique number.

During the experiment, the birds stood in front of the screen and received either a visual or aural cue. When they finished, they were supposed to peck at an “enter key” on the touchscreen monitor and make the quantity of vocalizations connected to the cue. An automatic feeder rewarded them with mealworms and pellets of bird seed if they answered correctly.

The majority of the time, they were right. According to Nieder, “their performance was way beyond chance and highly significant.” The first call’s sound could also be used by the researchers to estimate how many crows will call in the future, indicating that the birds may have prearranged how many calls to make. According to him, “this suggests that it’s actually a cognitively controlled process.”

Despite their intelligence, the crows were not perfect. The writers deduced from the sound of the cries that the birds usually intended to create the right amount of caws but occasionally got lost in the process. Nieder claims that by analyzing each call in a series, it is possible to determine whether the animal is stuttering and making more vocalizations than we had cued, or if it is skipping a particular vocalization and making fewer vocalizations.

According to Vallortigara, what the crows are doing is not what people would consider “true” counting because that would necessitate a symbolic grasp of numbers. However, it might be an evolutionary forerunner of that skill. He continues by saying that studies like this pave the way for a better understanding of the neurological processes underlying these skills and the peculiarities of the human number sense. It even has consequences for research on number-related cognitive impairments like dyscalculia.