Crows can recognize your face, and if you treat them badly, they’ll remember you for it.
That’s the astounding finding of a study at the University of Washington, conducted by wildlife biologist John Marzluff . He’d wondered for years why crows – a species of bird long known for its intelligence – reacted differently to different people.
In a simple but effective experiment, the biologists donned rubber masks. One was a caveman mask and the other a mask of Dick Cheney. Researchers wearing the caveman mask proceeded to trap and band – a process the birds distinctly dislike – seven crows on the university’s campus. Then they released the banded crows.
In the months that followed, anyone donning the caveman mask and strolling through the campus would be subjected to the crows’ loud scolding, some even threatening to attack the person wearing the mask. What’s more, it was far more than seven angry crows, indicating they communicated their ire to their fellow birds.
Marzluff’s findings confirm the theories of several other bird scientists. An ornithologist at Cornell said he’d been amazed for years how crows to whom he had fed peanuts would follow along behind him months later, while the birds he had previously trapped continued to screech and scold him.
The ability to recognize faces – as well as to know other crows from whom they’d been separated for months – gives crows (including ravens and magpies) an evolutionary edge.
“If you can learn who to avoid and who to seek out, that’s a lot easier than continually getting hurt,” Marzluff said. “I think it allows these animals to survive with us – and to take advantage of us – in a much safe, more effective way.”
Click here for the complete New York Times article. Be sure to watch the little video and see first-hand how crows react to Marzluff’s experiment.
Lower photos shows Dr. Marzluff with his mask and a tormenter.