In 2002, while studying the way New Caledonian crows use tools in the wild, three researchers at Oxford University ran an experiment with two of the birds named Betty and Abel.
The crows were given a hooked wire and a straight wire, both to be used for getting small pieces of meat from a cylindrical container.
Abel flew off with the hooked wire, so Betty took the straight one in her beak and did something never before seen: she bent the wire into the shape of a hook.
Researchers were shocked. Here they had a crow, which likely used bent sticks in the wild but never had before utilized such a wire, and it had adapted to the situation. When attempting to re-create the wire-bending solution to the straight-wire problem, nine times out of ten Betty was able to do so, while Abel didn’t bend the wire once.
Alex Kacelnik, who worked closely with Alex Weir and Jackie Chappell to study the crows, explained how the researchers viewed the situation to National Geographic, saying: “To solve a new problem, [Betty] did something she had never done before. Naturally, she must have exploited abilities she acquired doing other tasks in the past, but she showed the capacity to solve a new problem in a creative way by reorganizing her experience.”
Other crows have shown immense creative ability in a variety of situations. Often responding to situations they’ve never encountered before with truly inspired solutions.
What do such clear examples of creative thinking in crows mean for us, as artists and writers, business professionals, bloggers, painters, crafters, and otherwise creative individuals?
One way to look at it is like this: if a crow can think creatively so naturally, with understandably nowhere near the same level of thinking as the average human being, what do you think you’re capable of?
Learn more about the brilliance of these birds by watching Joshua Klein speak on crow’s intelligence.
Photo by Hobvias Sudoneighm.