How Smart Are Crows? Everything We Know About Their Intelligence

Written by Katie Downey
Published: September 18, 2023
© redpip1984/
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Crows are large, beautiful, black birds that get a bad rap. Their intelligence is not something most people know about. These birds tend to be labeled as ominous signs and creatures that foretell bad luck. It doesn’t help that a group of crows is called a murder. Alas, they are just lovely birds, just as the sparrow is a bird and nothing more. However, their intelligence should not be overlooked.

The American Crow (Corvus brachyrhynchos)

Crow perched on a branch
Crows are the smartest of all birds.

©Rudmer Zwerver/

Appearance: Crows are large, glossy, black birds with black bills and legs. Their feathers have an iridescent sheen. The crow’s beak is slender and straight. They are similar to ravens but are roughly half the size.

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Size: Approximately 17 inches long

Weight: An average of 20 ounces

Wingspan: 2.5 feet

Habitat: They are found throughout the US, though other types of crows live worldwide. They do not visit birdfeeders but do enjoy the safety of tall trees. They can be found in cities, farmland, rural areas, forests, and coastal regions.

Diet: Crows are opportunistic eaters and eat everything from seeds, food trash, carrion, baby birds, road kill, earthworms, insects, snails, and fruit. They are not true scavengers, and carrion only makes up a small part of their diet. They are not able to break the skin on small animals like squirrels, so they only eat carrion that is opened by another animal. However, they are very good at following other birds and animals and stealing their food.

Lifespan: In the wild, crows tend to live for 7 – 8 years but can live as long as 15. In captivity, there have been crows that have lived past 30 years. In New York, a captive crow lived to be 59 years old.

Crows are interesting birds who are highly social, especially during the nesting season and winter. Sometimes they are viewed when thousands of them roost together. Some of the roosts they choose during the winter have been a crow hotspot for 100 years or more! They return to the same spot every year.

A family of crows sometimes remains together for many years. Though these birds are adults at four to six weeks of age, they do not obtain sexual maturity until they are approximately two years old. During this time, they will hang out with their parents and help raise the next sets of brothers and sisters. Once they are mature in all ways, they will go off on their own but return to their parents from time to time. They are always welcome to come back home. Once they choose a mate and nest, it’s generally not far from where they were born. They are monogamous and do stay together for life, but they sometimes breed with other crows.

A Crow’s Intelligence

Black crow drinking from the tap.
This Eurasian crow shows a prime example of their intelligence.

©Alfa Net/

Crows have shown us time and time again just how smart they really are. They use tools to pry open nuts and sometimes throw clams from a massive height onto rocks in order to break them open. Scientists have said that the intelligence of these birds is comparable to that of a seven-year-old child. Their brain is the size of our thumbprint and makes up 2% of their body weight. This size is comparable to a primate’s brain.

The black birds are in the Corvid family, along with ravens, and are the only family of birds that use tools in the same fashion that primates do. They are amazing birds capable of abstract reasoning and complex problem-solving and can even come together to make decisions as a group or family. The American crows are the smartest in the corvid family. Below are several ways in which crows prove their intelligence.

Crows Can Recognize Humans

Hooded crow being fed by hand.
If you are kind to a crow, they will remember it each time they see you.


Let’s hope you haven’t done wrong by one of these birds because they will always remember it and your face. It isn’t just your face they will remember, either. Wearing a mask will not help. Scientists have proven that even with a mask, the crow will know who has harmed them and will attack. Their vengeance doesn’t end with that specific crow. They will tell their offspring about your wrongdoings, and they will also carry out revenge.

Crows Use Tools

American crow carrying off a stick to use for catching prey in a hole.
American crow carrying off a stick to use for catching prey in a hole.

©Melissa McMasters from Memphis, TN, United States / CC BY 2.0 – License

Crows not only use tools, but it also pleases them to do so. These clever birds use small, sharp, or hooked stripped branches to spear or lift out prey in holes. They sometimes drop rocks into a bucket to raise the water level high enough to drink from. These birds also steal items they believe could be useful tools. The black-feathered geniuses will take wire, a man-made item, and bend it to use for many things.

Crows Hold Funerals

Pink flowers in front of old grave monuments in Green-Wood cemetery, Brooklyn, New York
Death is sad, but crows gather together to discuss why the bird died so none of the others suffer the same fate.

©kristof lauwers/

When a crow passes away, an entire murder of crows will surround the dead bird and loudly caw together. They aren’t necessarily there to grieve the lost crow. Instead, they are discussing the danger in the area and what killed the bird. When one crow dies, it helps keep the others safe.

Crows Make Plans

Crows Enjoying the Tally Lake View
All crows are amazing problem-solving birds capable of planning ahead.

©Tiffany Sims/

Crows are impressive, and extremely intelligent birds. Their intellect spans farther than we even know. These birds are capable of planning ahead, and they can throw problem-solving into the mix, too. They know how much they need to eat, how much they need to bring back for their family, how much they should store away, and what to do if another bird is looking to steal their food.

The birds will gather food, and if another bird is watching, they will trick them into thinking the meal is theirs. The clever Corvid will pretend to stash the food they have in a nearby tree or hole, then fly off. Little does the other bird know that the large black bird pretended to stash the food and instead stuck it under a wing. They will wait a bit, put the food back in their mouth, and fly back to their real nest and feed their family or hide the food in a real hiding place.

A Crow is a Good Friend to Have

American crows
If you have the opportunity to befriend a crow, take it.

© Bock

Crows are amazing birds who remember the kindness shown to them. So if you help one of these beautiful birds, put out water and food where they typically hang out, or do some other small but meaningful deed, they WILL remember. A fun way to attract their attention is to place a piece of silverware or a prism near some food and water, and they might just be your new best friend.

Besides being extremely smart, they are highly adaptable animals. These birds didn’t always live in massive cities or have a solid understanding of suburban neighborhoods. They were once wild animals living on the edge of forests and civilization. Now, they are everywhere, and they really aren’t all that afraid of humans, like most other animals. Having a crow for a friend is an amazing pact with an animal that has no reason to trust humans.


Crows flying in front of single tree during foggy season
Many questions have been left unanswered regarding the lives of crows.

©Belmin Mesanovic/

Q: Why are crows so smart?

A: The ratio of bird to brain size is similar to primate to brain size. Primates are incredibly smart and capable of using tools that they have made to aid in food retrieval. Another factor that comes into play with crows is the amount of neurons they have packed into such a tiny brain. Since the neurons are what transfer thoughts and ideas to other neurons, the birds are capable of quick thinking skills and problem-solving. They have approximately 1.5 billion neurons in their brains, which is similar to that found in some primates, like the gorilla.

Q: What is the smartest animal?

A: Among the most intelligent animals are the orangutan, bottle-nosed dolphin, and chimpanzee.

Q: Do crows bring people gifts?

A: Yes, crows have been noted as bringing certain human gifts like lost earrings, shiny objects, rocks, or other items. They do this to give thanks to the person who has helped them by providing food, water, or help when it was needed. However, it is not common.

The Featured Image

Animals that sleep standing up - Crows
© redpip1984/

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About the Author

Katie Downey is an certified animal-nerd and enjoys writing and learning about all types of creatures. Katie has been writing for more than a decade and has been a full time writer for 2 years. Prior to writing, Katie was an animal rescue and rehabber working with handicapped animals. Her favorite pastimes include raising jumping spiders, playing with her many animal companions; 6 cats, 1 dog, 1 hedgehog, a bunch of baby snails, 8 Blue Death Feigning Beetles, 1 Robot Beetle, an emotionally disturbed black Syrian hamster, 21 jumping spiders and her little boy.

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