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Crows & Faces

September 29, 2008

Crows recognize individual human faces.


Bird brains that never forget a face. I’m Bob Hirshon and this is Science Update.

On the campus of the University of Washington in Seattle, nothing riles up the local crows more than a person in a caveman mask. That’s because nearly three years ago, ecologist John Marzluff and his team set out to test whether the notoriously brainy birds could distinguish between different human faces. The researchers trapped and released seven crows on campus while wearing caveman masks. Now, years later, anyone wearing the mask is mobbed by crows.

JOHN MARZLUFF (University of Washington):
So, the interesting thing, really, is, since we only caught seven birds, why do so many birds now on campus scold us?

Marzluff says the crows may be learning from each other which human faces are dangerous. And in case you’re thinking the crows just don’t like cavemen, the team repeated the experiments in different locations with more normal looking masks, and got similar results. I’m Bob Hirshon, for AAAS, the science society.