Meet the environmentalist crow

Having grown tired of being referred to as dirty and messy, one hooded crow in Izmir, Turkey took matters into its own beak to help make its park a little cleaner.




For anyone that can read Turkish you can find the original story here

According to the Turkish Newspaper, Radikal, after eating the leftover rice the crow flew over and dropped the used plate in the garbage bin.  What could explain this amazing act of social and environmental prowess?  I often see crows take food wrappers or packages up to a perch and then drop them once they’ve fished out all the crumbs.  Could be that this crow was simply in the right place at the right time to turn this typical behavior into something extraordinary.  Then again ¯\_(ツ)_/¯ .  We’ll never be able to say for sure what this crow was thinking, maybe it just got tired of all those litterbug people mucking up its park!


Filed under Crow behavior, crow intelligence, Crows and humans, Just for fun

6 responses to “Meet the environmentalist crow

  1. I feed hooded crows in the gardens near my office. Sometimes, the parents wash food in the puddle under an air-conditioner, before passing the soggy mush to a fledgling. To help, I’ve tried laying a plastic cup of water beside food offerings. After a few trials, the adults discovered how to dip food into the cup, and they can also drink from it. They do spill the cup occasionally. The youngsters are much clumsier. Yesterday, near the end of the meal, one of the adults put the (empty, toppled) cup back upright before wandering away. Maybe that’s less impressive than the clean-up crow in Turkey, but I wonder whether they share the same urge for neatness?

    The fledglings often play with sticks, grass, or bits of debris on the ground, but (to me) this doesn’t seem as purposeful as the adult rectifying a cup.

    • I doubt the behavior you witnessed is an artifact of neatness but I wonder, and would be in fact be way more excited, if it’s demonstrating a sense of understanding that an upright cup can collect water (something you’ve rightly observed they like). That would show an impressive sense of insight and mental time travel. I wonder if there’s a way you could find out if they do it consistently, or when it’s raining? As for the fledglings you’re correct that those play activities are a whole different ball game though whether it’s fair to say they’re purposeless is the subject of much debate! I have an old post about crow play you might like if you haven’t read it already…

      • Slight rain is forecast here tomorrow. I’ll try something. I have 4 identical plastic cups. I’ll toss them onto one of the flat roofs where the crows exploit the air-conditioner. I’ll check the scene intermittently to see whether the crows interact with the cups.

        Sometimes I’ve tried leaving cups in the garden and car-park where the crows descend for food. The cups don’t last long, because of the wind or janitors. The roof might be better, because it is only accessible to birds.

      • Thanks for the article about crow play. I’m regularly fascinated to watch a fledgling frolic around. I can’t always understand the purpose of what’s happening, but the bird seems happy. It’s something that they only do after a good feeding.

        If I keep a low profile, by sitting down on the ground, the youngster eventually wanders within arm’s reach, giving me a clear view. In your 7-point list, I mainly see “object play” and “play caching.” Picking up and dropping a twig. Probing the edges of a cobblestone that cannot be moved. Hiding something (maybe leftover cheese), wandering away for a few minutes, and then “discovering” the hidden item again. In today’s session, the fledgling found an old doormat halfway buried in the grass, and poked at the fibres curiously.

        There are 2 fledglings in this family, but the parents somehow deploy them to opposite parts of the garden. Lately I only see *one* youngster feeding or playing at a time. The other one remains on a tree branch or roof (while the parents keep shuttling food over there). I saw both fledglings together on the roof (briefly) this morning; and last weekend I snuck past before dawn and saw them all sleeping together in the same tree. It’s difficult to observe them without being noticed and causing interaction. If I approach the building on two of the four sides, the nearest fledgling usually sees me and starts begging to the parents.

  2. malcolm foster

    Hi, we have a crow that visits about 3.30 in the afternoon. We throw him a slice of bread and he either takes bits to soak in our bird bath and then eats them or breaks smaller pieces and then takes them to the lawn, makes a hole, places them in and then covers the hole with grass pulled up. He distributes the bread in small pieces all around lawn and under leaves. Why and is this learnt or inate behavior??

    • Hi Malcolm. The behavior you’re describing is called caching (pronounced like ‘cashing’). Like dogs, squirrels, and a variety of other animals, crows store/hide food for later consumption. While some corvids are obligate cashers (if they don’t store enough food they’ll starve over winter) crows are opportunistic cachers, meaning they do it but their survival doesn’t depend on it. Most of their stores food will be forgotten. For some crow species, like the Hawaiian crow, this means they actually play a huge role in generating forests since their forgotten seeds will eventually germinate. It’s an innate behavior. There’s been some really cool studies done exploiting this behavior to better understand things like theory of mind. You can read more about that here.

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