Cooperative decision rules have so far been shown experimentally mainly in mammal species that have variable and complex social networks. However, these traits should not necessarily be restricted to mammals. Therefore, we tested cooperative problem solving in ravens. We showed that, without training, nine ravens spontaneously cooperated in a loose-string task. Corroborating findings in several species, ravens' cooperative success increased with increasing inter-individual tolerance levels. Importantly, we found this in both a forced dyadic setting, and in a group setting where individuals had an open choice to cooperate with whomever. The ravens, moreover, also paid attention to the resulting reward distribution and ceased cooperation when being cheated upon. Nevertheless, the ravens did not seem to pay attention to the behavior of their partners while cooperating, and future research should reveal whether this is task specific or a general pattern. Given their natural propensity to cooperate and the results we present here, we consider ravens as an interesting model species to study the evolution of, and the mechanisms underlying cooperation.
Many species, including humans, have emerged via complex reticulate processes involving hybridisation. Under certain circumstances, hybridisation can cause distinct lineages to collapse into a single lineage with an admixed mosaic genome. Most known cases of such ‘speciation reversal’ or ‘lineage fusion’ involve recently diverged lineages and anthropogenic perturbation. Here, we show that in western North America, Common Ravens (Corvus corax) have admixed mosaic genomes formed by the fusion of non-sister lineages (‘California’ and ‘Holarctic’) that diverged ~1.5 million years ago. Phylogenomic analyses and concordant patterns of geographic structuring in mtDNA, genome-wide SNPs and nuclear introns demonstrate long-term admixture and random interbreeding between the non-sister lineages. In contrast, our genomic data support reproductive isolation between Common Ravens and Chihuahuan Ravens (C. cryptoleucus) despite extensive geographic overlap and a sister relationship between Chihuahuan Ravens and the California lineage. These data suggest that the Common Raven genome was formed by secondary lineage fusion and most likely represents a case of ancient speciation reversal that occurred without anthropogenic causes.
Only a handful of bird species are known to use foraging tools in the wild. Amongst them, the New Caledonian crow (Corvus moneduloides) stands out with its sophisticated tool-making skills. Despite considerable speculation, the evolutionary origins of this species' remarkable tool behaviour remain largely unknown, not least because no naturally tool-using congeners have yet been identified that would enable informative comparisons. Here we show that another tropical corvid, the ‘Alalā (C. hawaiiensis; Hawaiian crow), is a highly dexterous tool user. Although the 'Alalā became extinct in the wild in the early 2000s, and currently survives only in captivity, at least two lines of evidence suggest that tool use is part of the species’ natural behavioural repertoire: juveniles develop functional tool use without training, or social input from adults; and proficient tool use is a species-wide capacity. ‘Alalā and New Caledonian crows evolved in similar environments on remote tropical islands, yet are only distantly related, suggesting that their technical abilities arose convergently. This supports the idea that avian foraging tool use is facilitated by ecological conditions typical of islands, such as reduced competition for embedded prey and low predation risk. Our discovery creates exciting opportunities for comparative research on multiple tool-using and non-tool-using corvid species. Such work will in turn pave the way for replicated cross-taxonomic comparisons with the primate lineage, enabling valuable insights into the evolutionary origins of tool-using behaviour.
Early increased sophistication of human tools is thought to be underpinned by adaptive morphology for efficient tool manipulation. Such adaptive specialisation is unknown in nonhuman primates but may have evolved in the New Caledonian crow, which has sophisticated tool manufacture. The straightness of its bill, for example, may be adaptive for enhanced visually-directed use of tools. Here, we examine in detail the shape and internal structure of the New Caledonian crow’s bill using Principal Components Analysis and Computed Tomography within a comparative framework. We found that the bill has a combination of interrelated shape and structural features unique within Corvus, and possibly birds generally. The upper mandible is relatively deep and short with a straight cutting edge, and the lower mandible is strengthened and upturned. These novel combined attributes would be functional for (i) counteracting the unique loading patterns acting on the bill when manipulating tools, (ii) a strong precision grip to hold tools securely, and (iii) enhanced visually-guided tool use. Our findings indicate that the New Caledonian crow’s innovative bill has been adapted for tool manipulation to at least some degree. Early increased sophistication of tools may require the co-evolution of morphology that provides improved manipulatory skills.
The New Caledonian crow is the only non-human animal known to craft hooked tools in the wild, but the ecological benefit of these relatively complex tools remains unknown. Here, we show that crows acquire food several times faster when using hooked rather than non-hooked tools, regardless of tool material, prey type and extraction context. This implies that small changes to tool shape can strongly affect energy-intake rates, highlighting a powerful driver for technological advancement.
To maintain the quality of the feathers, birds regularly undergo moult. It is widely accepted that moult affects flight performance, but the specific aerodynamic consequences have received relatively little attention. Here we measured the components of aerodynamic drag from the wake behind a gliding jackdaw (Corvus monedula) at different stages of its natural wing moult. We found that span efficiency was reduced (lift induced drag increased) and the wing profile drag coefficient was increased. Both effects best correlated with the corresponding reduction in spanwise camber. The negative effects are partially mitigated by adjustments of wing posture to minimize gaps in the wing, and by weight loss to reduce wing loading. By studying the aerodynamic consequences of moult, we can refine our understanding of the emergence of various moulting strategies found among birds.
Gliding flight is a relatively inexpensive mode of flight used by many larger bird species, where potential energy is used to cover the cost of aerodynamic drag. Birds have great flexibility in their flight configuration, allowing them to control their flight speed and glide angle. However, relatively little is known about how this flexibility affects aerodynamic drag.We measured the wake of a jackdaw (Corvus monedula) gliding in a wind tunnel, and computed the components of aerodynamic drag from the wake. We found that induced drag was mainly affected by wingspan, but also that the use of the tail has a negative influence on span efficiency. Contrary to previous work, we found no support for the separated primaries being used in controlling the induced drag. Profile drag was of similar magnitude to that reported in other studies, and our results suggest that profile drag is affected by variation in wing shape. For a folded tail the body drag coefficient had a value of 0.2, rising to above 0.4 with the tail fully spread, which we conclude is due to tail profile drag.
New Caledonian crows (Corvus moneduloides) rely heavily on a range of tools to extract prey. They manufacture novel tools, save tools for later use, and have morphological features that facilitate tool use. We report six observations, in two individuals, of a novel tool-use mode not previously reported in non-human animals. Insert-and-transport tool use involves inserting a stick into an object and then moving away, thereby transporting both object and tool. All transported objects were non-food objects. One subject used a stick to transport an object that was too large to be handled by beak, which suggests the tool facilitated object control. The function in the other cases is unclear but seems to be an expression of play or exploration. Further studies should investigate whether it is adaptive in the wild and to what extent crows can flexibly apply the behaviour in experimental settings when purposive transportation of objects is advantageous.
While humans are able to understand much about causality, it is unclear to what extent non-human animals can do the same. The Aesop’s Fable paradigm requires an animal to drop stones into a water-filled tube to bring a floating food reward within reach. Rook, Eurasian jay, and New Caledonian crow performances are similar to those of children under seven years of age when solving this task. However, we know very little about the cognition underpinning these birds' performances. Here, we address several limitations of previous Aesop’s Fable studies to gain insight into the causal cognition of New Caledonian crows. Our results provide the first evidence that any non-human animal can solve the U-tube task and can discriminate between water-filled tubes of different volumes. However, our results do not provide support for the hypothesis that these crows can infer the presence of a hidden causal mechanism. They also call into question previous object-discrimination performances. The methodologies outlined here should allow for more powerful comparisons between humans and other animal species and thus help us to determine which aspects of causal cognition are distinct to humans.
Much attention has been paid to the impacts of plastics and other debris on marine organisms, but the effects of plastic on terrestrial organisms have been largely ignored. Detrimental effects of terrestrial plastic could be most pronounced in intensively human-modified landscapes (e.g., urban and agricultural areas), which are a source of much anthropogenic debris. Here, we examine the occurrence, types, landscape associations, and consequences of anthropogenic nest material in the American crow (Corvus brachyrhynchos), a North American species that breeds in both urban and agricultural landscapes. We monitored 195 nestlings in 106 nests across an urban and agricultural gradient in the Sacramento Valley, California, USA. We found that 85.2% of crow nests contained anthropogenic material, and 11 of 195 nestlings (5.6%) were entangled in their nests. The length of the material was greater in nests in agricultural territories than in urban territories, and the odds of entanglement increased 7.55 times for each meter of anthropogenic material in the nest. Fledging success was significantly lower for entangled than for unentangled nestlings. In all environments, particularly urban, agricultural, and marine, careful disposal of potential hazards (string, packing and hay bale twine, balloon ribbon, wire, fishing line) could reduce the occurrence of entanglement of nestling birds.