Crow Cognition Group (CrowCoG)
From hammers and chisels to cars and computers — the technological behaviour of humans is unsurpassed by any other organism. Nevertheless, we are not alone in our technological capacity. Since Jane Goodall’s Jane Goodall's pioneering discovery of chimpanzees' tool manufacturing half a century ago, many other primate and non-primate species are now known to exhibit tool-related behaviour(s). The last 15 years have seen a growing number of studies suggesting birds, particularly corvids and parrots, perform comparably to primates on a wide variety of cognitive tasks. One species in particular, the New Caledonian crow, has convergently evolved tool manufacture skills that rival those seen in chimpanzees. They are also the only species besides humans that produce hook tools. New Caledonian crows’ pandanus leaf tool designs vary across populations in different geographical areas in a pattern that suggests they have cumulatively evolved. In aviary experiments, wild-caught New Caledonian crows have successfully solved tasks that require sophisticated cognitive abilities such as reasoning by exclusion, causal inference, meta-tool use, agency detection and short-term planning. New Caledonian crows are thus an ideal model species to test hypotheses about what makes humans unique and, in the process, study the more general evolutionary links between tool manufacture, cognition and cultural evolution.
To expand our understanding of New Caledonian crow tool-making, culture and cognition, the CrowCoG team, led by Alexis Breen, James St Clair, and Russell Gray, was established in February 2023. This team will combine observational studies of crow behaviour in the field with non-invasive experimental work in our large purpose-built aviaries, where crows can be temporarily housed before being released back into the wild, to test the crows’ abilities for high-fidelity social learning, memory, physical cognition and planning.
The Crow Cognition Group offers 2.5 to 4 month field assistant opportunities each year, typically occurring mid-March to mid-September—these are always advertised annually on the departmental jobs board. At least two PhD student positions with a start date in the second half of 2023 will also be advertised shortly.