crow, crows, aesop fables, thirsty crow

Smart Birds Suggest Aesop’s Fable Was True

August 10, 2009 05:00 PM
by Anita Gutierrez-Folch
Aesop’s fable about a thirsty, clever crow was meant to teach a lesson of patience and perseverance. A new study suggests that the tale may have actually happened.

Smart Rooks Get the Worm

Two recent studies have drawn attention to the ability of some birds in the family of crows to “use tools in sophisticated ways, without training, to obtain food,” Bruce Bower writes for Science News. These studies prove the truth behind Aesop’s fable about the thirsty crow, indicating a “substantial intelligence” that allows the birds to satisfy necessity through resourcefulness.

As the Associated Press reports, a British study published in the science journal Current Biology replicated Aesop’s original fable in which “the bird comes across a pitcher with the water level too low for him to reach. The crow raises the water level by dropping stones into the pitcher.” Christopher Bird of the University of Cambridge and Nathan Emery from Queen Mary University tested this theory with rooks—relatives of the crow—and found that the birds were indeed able to reach a floating worm using rocks as tools.

According to the experiment summary, four rooks fared very well with their task, realizing “precisely how many stones were needed. Three subjects also rapidly learned to use large stones over small ones, and that sawdust cannot be manipulated in the same manner as water,” Current Biology explains. 

Although there’s no evidence of birds applying this technique in the wild, Emery and Bird suggest that the animals’ mental abilities allow them to make use of their available resources to satisfy a necessity. “Rooks do not use tools in the wild because they do not need to, not because they can’t,” Bird told Science News.

Related Topic: Crows use sticks as tools

A similar study published in PLoS ONE on Aug. 4 evaluated crows’ ability to manipulate wooden sticks as tools. As zoologist Joanna Wimpenny from the University of Oxford explained to Science News, “captive New Caledonian crows can manipulate three wooden sticks, one at a time and in the correct sequence, to obtain food.”

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