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Can Crows Talk?

by Lucy

It isn’t a rare occurrence to find many nature lovers devoting a large portion of their time to studying and feeding crows. The one thing that these animal lovers most find intriguing about crows is that they are highly intelligent birds.

Crows hang around in groups as there is always safety in numbers. They hunt and track in groups. They roost together so that some may rest while others keep a watch.

They even take time out to be around and even mourn their dead, and studies show that crows often try to understand the cause of death and use it as a learning experience.

But can crows talk? Crows have the ability to almost perfectly mimic sounds, including words spoken by humans with the same accent and intonation. To do this, they use their throat muscles and membranes, particularly their syrinx.

Most birds do communicate vocally, as do crows. And, yes, they learn through social learning by imitating their parents or the dominant birds from the flock. But, in the wild, crows tend to use sounds rather than words to communicate to their kind.

Let’s take a closer look at how these amazing birds are able to mimic sounds and why they do it. We’ll also share an amazing video of a crow mimicking their caretaker’s voice!

Why Does It Sound Like Crows Talk?

While it’s true that crows cannot technically talk like a human can, as they lack vocal chords, they are champions at mimicry. There are more than 40 species of Corvidae around the world. The more commonly known are the crows, ravens, jackdaw, rooks, chough, and magpies.

And, some species are thought to have superior intelligence, even more than the common crow. In particular, ravens are more intelligent than crows as they seem to have an uncanny knack at mimicry. Even in the wild, ravens have seven different calls and imitate the calls of other birds such as geese, jays, and crows. 

Now, in the wild, crows have to focus on surviving and observing their environment and the creatures that exist around them.

According to Sabrina Schulz, a doctoral student of evolutionary ecology at Middlesex University in the UK, crows can tell the difference between various languages through observation. Her research shows that crows even pay more attention to unknown languages than familiar ones. 

It is a behavior that works as a defense mechanism, as what is known poses less of a threat. Moreover, according to an animal behaviorist of the University of Washington in Seattle, crows thrive in a human-dominated environment because of their ability to pay attention to people. 

Schulz calls crows listening to human conversations as “avian eavesdropping.” And, it is due to their capacity of keen understanding and observation that crows can mimic human sounds. They truly do sound like they are talking. 

Crows and ravens in captivity tend to do even better than crows in the wild. You see, crows can live for 15-17 years in the wild, but up to 20 years in captivity. And as they don’t have to bother about survival in captivity, all of their energies are diverted to communicating with their pet parents instead.

You’ll find numerous YouTube videos of Jet the talking crow, Fable or Mischief the talking ravens, and Jimini Crowket, whose video we’ve included from the Talking Crow channel below for your enjoyment. Good luck telling where the owner’s voice ends and the crow’s begins!

Can Crows Talk Like Parrots?

It may sound hard to believe, but crows make excellent speakers. You have to realize that parrots have been domestic pets for far longer than crows or ravens; they have been raised and trained by humans to mimic human sounds.

Now, mimicking is a skill that comes to parrots and crows naturally. But the amount of time each bird tends to spend with humans makes a significant difference in the fluency and vocabulary of the bird.

The more time parrots and crows spend with humans, and the more the bird bonds with humans, the better they mimic human sounds. Also, parrots are generally social birds who love to make friends.

Crows do move in groups, but these are more reserved birds. You will often find a parrot chatting away easily with its human, but crows don’t feel comfortable with unknown company and shy away from mimicking.

Puck, a cheery blue parakeet, holds the Guinness World Record for a recognized set of 1,728 words. Unfortunately, no crow or raven can boast of such a claim.

Yet, the study published in 2017 in the journal Science revealed that ravens are so intelligent that they pre-plan their tasks. In a simple experiment, ravens were assigned tasks that they easily copied.

In similar tests, Mathias Oswath, a researcher at Sweden’s Lund University, stated that even monkeys could not carry out those tasks that the ravens so quickly copied.

So, it’s true that so far, parrots hold the record for being better speakers. You must realize that this is a race where parrots have had a head start over crows, but the evidence clearly shows that crows are catching up slowly but surely.

You’ll find plenty of evidence to support this theory the moment you walk into the avian section of any zoo that houses ravens or crows. All the cackling laughs, hellos, and good mornings will leave you amazed.

Can You Train A Crow To Talk?

There isn’t a doubt in many avian researcher’s minds that both parrots and crows are exceedingly clever birds.

When a bird can fly from America to Argentina, come back all the way, and land in the same bush, we call it Nature’s way. But it takes a lot of intelligence beyond plain instinct to make this happen.

Yes, it is often stated that there can’t be much intelligence in a brain the size of a nut. But, what a bird’s brain lacks in size, it makes up for in neurons. 

A crow’s brain packs 1.5 billion neurons. Neurons are information messengers. They use electrical impulses and chemical signals to pass information between different areas of the brain and the nervous system.

Hence, it is very much possible to train a crow to talk. Teaching to talk becomes easier if you’ve raised it in your home from a chick. Crows have the natural ability to pick out sounds from their environment and mimic them. So, your bird will learn to speak a lot faster if it is constantly around humans.

The idea is to start with simple words such as hello or good morning. Moreover, the more enthusiasm or excitement your voice carries, the more the crow will gain interest. And, positive reinforcement such as offering treats is a very effective tool in training your crow (this is a great treat blend for birds we like).

However, parrots and crows do have different personalities. So, it doesn’t help to harass your raven or crow to talk when it feels shy. Crows need to bond with humans before they feel comfortable enough to speak in their presence. The more stressed your bird feels, the less trust there will be. And the longer your bird will take to bond with you. 

Another interesting theory is that parrots breed well in captivity too. And the chicks of these parrots learn to speak even better than their parents.

As mentioned earlier, birds learn from their parents or the dominant birds of the flock. And if the parents mimic human sounds, the chicks will learn those and far more words than their parents. Now, the breeding of crows and ravens in captivity is not so common. 

As of 1972, crows are protected under the Migratory Bird Act. Hence, it is “illegal to kill, possess, import, export, transport, sell, purchase, barter, or offer for sale….the parts, nests, or eggs…except under the terms of a valid permit issued pursuant to Federal Regulations.”

Technically, this means that you can’t keep a crow as a pet or train it unless you have a permit for rescuing, rehabilitating, or using them as an educational animal. If you ever find an injured crow, don’t keep it. Take it to your nearest wildlife rehabilitation center immediately.

Related Questions

As you may well know, crows and ravens don’t make very popular pets. Yet, there are always plenty of commonly asked queries that animal lovers have about crows and ravens. Read on to find the answers to some of the questions. 

What Is The Difference Between A Crow And A Raven?

Both the crow and raven belong to the same family Corvidae. But, the differences between the crow and the raven are pretty extensive. The raven has eight subspecies and is the heaviest of the passerine birds.

In addition, many studies and research show that ravens have a particular knack for problem-solving. Indeed, their problem-solving capabilities far exceed even those of many intelligent mammal species. 

Now, crows belong to the same family. But, crows tend to be smaller in weight and size. Crows also have smaller and thinner bills than ravens. Crows, like ravens, live in flocks.

Yet, it isn’t their ability to solve riddles that distinguish crows from their counterparts. You see, a study by Kevin McGowan from Cornell Lab of Ornithology in Ithaca, New York, clearly shows that crows are forerunners when it comes to human face recognition and long-term memory association.

If you’ve done good to crow, it’ll remember you forever and may even be so grateful as to bring you shiny trinkets. But if you’ve treated a crow badly, you and your family will have a difficult time getting safely out of your house for a very long time. Remember that next time you think it’s funny to shoot wildlife with a softball gun.

Why Do Crows Thrive In The Human Environment?

You have to understand the nature of crows to understand why they thrive so well in human environments. Crows are omnivores; they will eat anything and everything.

They can eat berries, vegetables, insects, fish, and other small mammals. But, they will just as quickly go through dumpsters to forage for human food and even feast upon half-eaten carrion. In short, crows never have a scarcity of food in human environments. 

Furthermore, crows are amazing at human face recognition as well as positive and negative associations. Moreover, they don’t do anything alone. They move in flocks, and as they are so good at communication, they are always eager to share information with neighboring flocks. 

If a person accidentally kills a crow, they will have to face the ire of not only the flock of crows in the same neighborhood but from the nearby areas as well.

Why Do People Think Crows Are Evil?

There are dozens of myths proclaiming crows and ravens to be evil. But, that is only because humans have yet to understand the true nature of these rather shy and intelligent creatures.

Ravens and crows are big and black. They are loud and so intelligent that they tend to amuse themselves by playing tricks on other animals. Because crows are omnivores, they also eat smaller birds, mammals, and carrion.

So it’s no wonder poets and writers throughout the ages have reimagined them as trickster gods as well as symbols and omens of death. Looking at you, Edgar Allan Poe.

However, other cultures associate a talking raven with prophecy and insight. In many ancient stories, ravens act as psychopomps. Psychopomps are beings that can connect the material world to the world of spirits. As a carrion bird, crows and ravens are seen as mediators or messengers between life and death.

Do Crows Hold Funerals?

It may seem strange, but yes, crows do gather around their dead. It may be a deserted field or a busy street full of traffic, but if there is a fallen crow, then you will indeed find many of its comrades surrounding its body as if they were mourning. They are flock birds, so it is possible that they are indeed mourning their dead and trying to comprehend their loss.

And crows aren’t dumb creatures. They also take every opportunity to observe and learn. Crows gathering around their fallen is a time for them to understand what caused the death. Studies show that this is a way of learning how not to repeat a mistake that resulted in death. 

It is also a time to understand what poses a threat to their existence and who and what can fall into the category of a predator. These birds show clear signs of superior intelligence. Few other animals show even a passing interest in their dead. 

Observing any form of funeral rituals is a practice that is common only among some of the most intelligent mammals on earth, such as the bottlenose dolphins, elephants, or chimpanzees. And, crows happen to belong to this category, as they too care for their dead. 

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