Thursday, October 27, 2005

Bird games

Yesterday while I was sitting in the little park behind school after work, relaxing for a bit before cycling home, I watched a crow for a while. I was watching it because there was a small black cat that sits behind some bushes in the park, and whenever a pigeon got near it looked very, very alert. It didn't do anything, but it got that look that said it might, if it felt like it.

The crow was wandering around the water feature, and I wondered if the cat would feel like attacking a bird as big as itself. But when the crow got a bit too close the cat pretended it had sudden urgent business elsewhere, and slunk off.

I continued watching the crow, which then started to do something rather odd. It found a rock. The rock was quite large - about as big as an ordinary hen's egg, only square, and, well, rock-like.

At first I thought the crow perhaps mistook the rock for a bit of bread that had become dry and hard, because it picked up the rock and threw it, quite purposefully, into the water. Then it picked it out of the water and threw it on the ground. And then it picked it up again and flew up, dropping it. It landed, picked it up again, and threw it back into the water.

This odd behaviour continued for about ten minutes. After a while I decided the crow knew it was a rock and not bread, and came to the conclusion that it was playing. I have never seen a bird play before, but I couldn't imagine what else it was doing. It certainly wasn't achieving anything except a lovely CLUNK every time it threw or dropped the rock. It would cock its head and appear to be listening to this sound. When the rock landed in the water, it would splash. The crow seemed to enjoy that, too, judging by the number of times it threw the rock into the water. It usually picked it up in its beak, but now and again it picked it up with its feet, too, and moved it around a little.

I only took one picture. I forgot I had the camera with me until just before the crow flew off somewhere else with the rock. And I missed the rock. Just as I took the picture the crow threw the rock into the water, and it landed out of the frame. But if I see anything like that again I will try to get better pictures. It was STRANGE.

11 comments:

Orikinla Osinachi. said...

That was a very interesting nature study.

A video of it would have have been worth something on National Geographic.

Cheryl said...

Wow
I would be inclined to go back and present him with very dry bread, to check the theory.
It sounds a bit like dumb-luck fishing, but crows don't eat fish, do they?
I genuinely wish I'd been there!
Wonderful.

kenju said...

Sounds like the plot of a children's book to me!

melinama said...

crows are very smart, if only they had fingers they could play video games

carrie said...

cool picture

BotanicalGirl said...

Crows are members of family Corvidae, one of the most intelligent groups of birds, along with ravens. Scientific studies have shown that this group does indeed 'play': manipulating objects for no good purpose other than entertainment. I read a National Geographic article about animal 'play' once which had a picture of ravens rolling down a hillside for fun.

Monkeys will also play, particularly the snow monkeys in Japan, which the same article showed playing with snowballs. Which they made themselves. Cool stuff.

zandperl said...

At least one crow has also shown tool use: bending a coat hanger to snag some treat out of a hole. However, without further evidence I'd be inclined to first guess that the crow was testing the rock to see if it'd make good nest material.

Badaunt said...

The water feature is very shallow - no fish, so I don't think it was fishing. The nest-building material idea sounds ridiculous - would a bird use a rock to build a nest? - except that I once saw a BRILLIANT photo (and didn't keep it, dammit) in the local newspaper of a crow's nest constructed entirely from blue wire coat-hangers. The crow had obviously raided a dry cleaners. It was the most uncomfortable-looking nest you can imagine, but extremely arty.

Maybe it was the latest thing in crow interior design, and maybe rocks is the LATEST latest thing...

mmulibra said...

wow a rock-player crow?

anyway, crows in Japan are huge.. and abit scary

Pkchukiss said...

I did have a bird problem recently in camp.

A couple of robins (or a species that looks like it) decided to make their love nest on top of the water cooler on my level. We cleared the dried twigs and mud off it the first time, only to see more vegetation piled on the very next day.

It seemed like a battle of wits and endurance between the birds and the humans: they kept piling it on, while we tried our best to clear the nest before they finish their renovations and start their family tree.

Then one day, they just left.

Hooray for the humans.

BerlinBear said...

Hello my friend,
You would not believe this. Just signed on to BlogExplosion for the first time in months, and the SECOND site I got taken to was yours. How about that! I wonder what the chances are? Sorry I've been out of the loop for so long. Just easing my way back in now. Expect more.