Looks like “bird-brained” is a misnomer: Experimental studies have proven that crows—along with their close relatives, the ravens—are among the most intelligent birds in the world. Though there are more than 30 million of them in the United States, the intelligence of these common black birds is largely underestimated.
They’re more likely to be seen as creepy, and the fact that a group of crows is called a “murder” doesn’t exactly help. But according to researchers at the University of Washington’s Aviation Conservation Lab, crows are actually very friendly, not to mention smart.
Though a crow’s brain is about the size of a human thumb, that’s actually quite big in relation to the rest of their body. Researchers say their intelligence is on par with that of primates. Experiments show that crows can figure out how to use a stick as a tool to retrieve a larger stick, then using the larger stick to retrieve a food reward that was out of reach.
They also recognize—and remember—faces, marking people as amicable or threatening according to their behavior. PET scans of crows’ brains have shown that different areas light up when they see someone they perceive as either friendly or dangerous. Researchers believe they remember faces they mark as dangerous for life.