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NATURE: A Murder Of Crows

Airs Wednesday, Oct. 22, 2014 at 8 p.m. & Sunday, Oct. 26 at 3 p.m. on KPBS TV

Above: A close-up photo of baby crows from "Nature: A Murder Of Crows."

Crows live everywhere in the world except Antarctica and are a part of myths and legends in many cultures. Their reputation in the stories varies from comical to frightening, godlike or wise, bringers of light and bringers of death, though a “murder” of crows refers to a flock of crows, and not to anything murderous, at all. They may be all these things, but what we are learning is that they are especially smart.

Close-up of an American crow, a bird common to the U.S., southern Canada, and northern Mexico, whose species name (brachyrhynchos) literally means "short-billed crow."
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Above: Close-up of an American crow, a bird common to the U.S., southern Canada, and northern Mexico, whose species name (brachyrhynchos) literally means "short-billed crow."

John Marzluff, professor of Wildlife Science, University of Washington holds a crow after attaching telemetry.
Enlarge this image

Above: John Marzluff, professor of Wildlife Science, University of Washington holds a crow after attaching telemetry.

In "A Murder Of Crows," NATURE reveals new research that has shown that they are among the most intelligent animals on the planet. They use tools as only elephants and chimpanzees do, and recognize 250 distinct calls. One particular talent they have been discovered to possess is the ability to recognize individual human faces and pick them out of a crowd up to two years later – a trick that might make even Hitchcock shiver with fright.

They thrive wherever people live and have used their great intelligence to adapt again and again to a constantly changing world. Some memorize garbage truck routes, and follow the feast from day to day. Others drop nuts in the road and wait for passing cars to crack them open. And some build their nests from items we throw away – like wire clothes hangers.

These are social birds that mate for life and raise their young for up to five years. And they learn from each other’s misfortunes. When one is killed in a farmer’s field, it’s not uncommon for them to change entire migratory patterns so that no crows fly over that field for as long as two years.

These birds might have a scary reputation, but what may prove to be the scariest thing about them is how much they know about us, and how little we know about them!

NATURE is on Facebook, Tumblr and you can follow @PBSNature on Twitter. Past episodes of NATURE are available for online viewing.

Video

The Crow And The Caveman

Above: In the first few minutes from "A Murder Of Crows" we learn that crows are always watching, learning, and remembering. Crows live everywhere in the world except Antarctica and are a part of myths and legends in many cultures. Their reputation in the stories varies from comical to frightening, godlike or wise, bringers of light and bringers of death, though a "murder" of crows refers to a flock of crows, and not to anything murderous, at all. They may be all these things, but what we are learning is that they are especially smart.

Video

Preview: NATURE: A Murder Of Crows

Above: New research has shown that crows are among the most intelligent animals in the world, able to use tools and recognize each other's voices and 250 distinct calls. And they are able to recognize individual humans and pick them out of a crowd up to two years later. Crow experts present captivating footage of the species as we have never seen them before. "A Murder of Crows" premieres on PBS Sunday, October 24, 2010.