Can crows intuitively modify materials to gather food? The researchers at Oxford certainly believe so! Weir, Chappell and Kacelnik (2002), investigators at the department of zoology in Oxford have revealed that New Caledonian Crows “rival nonhuman primates in tool-related cognitive capabilities.”

Despite similar studies previously being completed with primates, the current study which was concluded in August 2002 suggests that female crows can instinctively bend a piece of wire and effectively use it to obtain a container with food from a vertical pipe. In a natural environment, the New Caledonian crows typically use branches or stick to either retrieve or gather food. However, these toolmaking abilities have been thought-provoking to discover in crows that were reared in an artificial environment. The Caledonian crows that were reared in a controlled environment have no previous understanding of this.

Surprisingly, the female crow called Betty was able to make a hoop out of an unnatural material (garden wire) and employ that material to solve a problem (food retrieval). Within 10 successful trials, whereby a single piece of wire was placed on top of a tube with no interference from the investigators, unless a crow obtained the food or dropped the wire into the tube, Betty was able to bend the wire and retrieve the food with it nine times whilst Abel (a male crow) retrieved the food with a straight wire once. In all trials where the food was retrieved; the birds gained the food within just 2 minutes.

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“In the wild, New Caledonian crows make at least two sorts of hook tools using distinct techniques (…) but the method used by our female crow is different from those previously reported”. Weir, Chappell and Kacelnik (2002) suggested that Betty’s ability to shape the hooks in various shapes cannot be accredited to random behaviour. Instead, the researchers propose that Betty’s action were purposeful and improved her problem-solving skills in a creative way through experience.

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