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Crows & Faces Update

December 24, 2013

Eight years later, a population of Seattle crows still holds a grudge against the face of their human capturer.



Crows with grudges. I’m Bob Hirshon and this is Science Update.

Threatening_mask_photo-250x349Marzluff lab

A researcher wearing a mask associated with threat holds a crow. (Marzluff lab/University of Washington)

Five years ago, we reported that crows remember the faces of people who captured them, even if the face is really just the same mask worn by different people. Well, eight years after the original experiment on the University of Washington campus, the crows are still afraid of the same mask, even though most of the original birds have died. This according to wildlife biologist John Marzluff.

JOHN MARZLUFF (University of Washington):

The birds still remember it even though the masked person hasn’t done anything bad to them for eight years; each time a bird responds and scolds that mask, it’s a new learning opportunity for everybody else.


Now, he and his team have found that the amygdala, an area of the brain associated with learned fear, becomes active when the crows see someone in a capturer’s mask. In contrast, when crows see the mask of someone who has fed them, a part of the brain associated with reward switches on. I’m Bob Hirshon, for AAAS, the science society.