Crafty Crows: How Much Truth Did Aesop Know?

What can crows do that most other animals can’t? Well, if you’ve read Aesop’s famous fables you may be inclined to believe that crows have unique intelligence. Aesop tells a tale of a crow who couldn’t reach the water in a pitcher. So it dropped pebbles into the pitcher to raise the water higher. According to the New York Times, researchers at New Zealand’s Auckland University have recently proved Aesop was onto something.

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Aukland University’s Sarah Jelbert, Alex Taylor and Russel Gray partnered with the University of Cambridge to run their most recent experiment . They made modifications to Aesop’s principle and floated something tasty inside of a narrow tube of water — too low for a crow to reach it. The crows were provided with stones and the researches stood back to see what would happen.

Sure enough, the birds proved clever enough to drop stones into the beaker and raise the water level (although they did need to be trained to pick up the stones). They also learned not to drop stones into tubes that were filled with sand. While Ms. Jelbert and her colleagues were impressed by the results, they did note that the crows couldn’t figure out how to get the treat when the bottom of the beaker was hidden.

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“We’re still very much at the beginning,” Ms. Jelbert told The New York Times. This area of research could yield exciting insights into animal thought.