The Great Crow Experiment, Part 1


The hypothesis of this experiment is that Corvus brachyrhynchos (American Crow) has the ability to recognize individual people and individual cars.

As previously reported in MEH and the Crows (citation: wordsxo) and Science News (citation: Science News), American Crows are extremely intelligent animals. MEH (My Engineer Husband) read an article in Science News about a crow researcher who would occasionally fling peanuts and/or dogfood out her car window to stir up crow activity. After she sold her car, the new owner called and asked her why a crow was following her to work. The researcher then realized that crows recognize not just individual humans but also individual cars. By the way, the car’s new owner didn’t mind the crow following, instead just “provisioned her car with peanuts for the occasional fling.”
MEH suggested we try an experiment of our own and test the theory ourselves. This was an easy task because there are a lot of crows at the nearby park and recreation center where we walk our dog once in the morning and again in the evening.

And so it was, about two months ago MEH purchased a large bag of peanuts (a preferred crow food) and we started feeding the crows—from our car and when on foot while walking the dog.

* Peanuts
* Camera
* Video Camera
* iPhone Audio recorder (we made daily audio “Crow Logs,”  like the one you can listen to at the end of this post!!)
* The car (white non-descript station wagon)
* Ourselves (MEH and Julia)
Method and Procedure

The experiment entailed a four-pronged method:

1. Placing peanuts twice a day at specific spots around the softball field at the recreation area: specifically at portions of the fence we have called “faux gates” (because they are shorter segments so they look like gates and we decided the crows might easily see them from the air).

2. Placing peanuts on the fence posts at the recreation area.

3. Flinging peanuts out the car windows (when crows are present) as we drive away from the recreation area as well as other places we see crows.

4. Throwing peanuts in our driveway if and when we notice crows in our yard or following us home.

Crow Log November 14, 2011 (mp3)LISTEN HERE for a preview of results!!

Next blog post (Thursday): Results and Conclusions


  1. Julia, this is just so brilliant! I love your crow experiment. What a brilliant idea to put the nuts somewhere the crows would see them from the air! We don’t get many crows in our village, but driving home from work (about 10 miles away) last week, A huge flock of crows flew over and alongside my car for the length of a very long and fast road. I am convinced they were trying to keep up with me. I have never done the peanut thing, but I’m going to try! Can’t wait to hear what happens next!

  2. Abi, Thanks so much; so glad you enjoyed it! We have a lot of fun with this “project” of ours. And I LOVE your story! I wonder if the crows were getting a look at you because they remember you from when you’re out gardening!? They are really fascinating birds, and I can’t hear to see how your peanut flinging goes 🙂 I think you’ll like the Results/Conclusions/Surprises next post!

  3. Barb Riley says:

    Very cool experiment, Julia (and MEH). I’m fascinated by birds and their intelligence. Based on my own backyard observations, any of the blackbird family (grackles, crows, starlings, bluejays, etc.) always seem to be the craftiest at getting what they need in the way of food. I’ll be staying tuned for the conclusions! Btw, I love that top picture!

  4. Emma Pass says:

    What a fantastic idea! Crows, magpies, ravens and rooks are some of my favourite birds. We get all four here, especially magpies, and you can see how intelligent they are because they’re so naughty. I once watched 3 juveniles (who I nicknamed Eeny, Meeny and Mo) gather round a marigold in a neighbour’s flowerbed and take turns trying to pull it up!

    Can’t wait to see the results of your experiment!

  5. Oooooh this is too awesome! I can’t wait for the rest of your crow exposé (they ARE too damn smart)!


  6. How clever! I can’t wait to read Part II to learn the results of your experiment.

  7. Barb, Glad you are enjoying the Great Crow Experiment! They really are so fascinating (and intelligent, too!). I was beyond lucky with that photo — in the tree outside our back door — and they usually fly away pretty quickly after they hear the door open… because (preview to conclusions) they’re incredibly shy animals!

    Emma, I absolutely love all the Corvids and am envious that you get the rooks and ravens — I haven’t seen them except in photos! I love the thought of Eeny, Meeny and Mo pulling up a marigold. What a great start or inclusion in a story!! Happy you’re enjoying the experiment with us!

    Ashlee, That’s too funny — it really is an expose, isn’t it. And they are incredibly smart. You have magpies and other Corvids, crows and ravens too? Glad you’re enjoying our experiment!

    Shary, Glad you’re enjoying our experiment — I don’t think Part 2 will disappoint in it’s conclusions. Incredible animals and lots of fun to observe! We’ll have a video, too!

  8. CMSmith says:

    You are too funny. You and your experiments. I’m laughing out loud here. Brings me back to my ChemE days in the Unit Ops lab. I’m sure your experiment will be more fun.

    Who’s the peanut head? LOL

    Can’t wait to hear what happens.

    Still laughing.

  9. Christine, You’re onto our scientific roots — me with almost a BA in Zoology before switching to Journalism; MEH a Mechanical/Computer Science Engineer (admittedly arguably scientific, haha) — and now peanut head. We love the scientific method, and I’ll employ it whenever possible in my blog!! 🙂 Glad to amuse, much more fun coming on Thursday!

  10. I’m not sure I would want to do this as I don’t like crows enough. However, this reminded me of a story on NPR I heard a while back about a pet vulture who lived with a family for a while until it was time to mate. It was fascinating.

  11. Lisa, I think a lot of people feel that way about crows… they are complex birds. As for vultures, NO WAY, NO HOW, no matter how much MEH wanted to experiment with them. I’m not a fan of vultures especially in the house (or crows in the house for that matter either!). It does sound interesting, though! (p.s. NPR was of course where we first heard about crows…they discuss the coolest stuff!)

  12. Yes, we do! Australian Ravens usually get called crows, even though there’s a distinct difference in size between the two!


  13. Ashlee, very cool! I’m curious to see and will definitely google them!

  14. Oh my gosh… This is GREAT; I love that you conducted this experiment! I have been anxiously awaiting this post and your results (how cruel of you to make us wait!). The pic of MEH with a bag of peanuts as his head is priceless. And I LOVE the crow log (so fun to hear your voice). Such fun – and another reason why your blog is so wonderful!

    I love the history of the crow researcher who discovered that crows recognize human faces and cars. Thanks for the great read.

  15. Melissa, So happy you liked it — wish I could do the same with your ravens, although YIKES those guys are HUGE and there are so many of them!! I guarantee the results (and VIDEO!!) will be worth the wait. I hope it goes without saying there will be some funny parts too. I agree — the crow research is absolutely phenomenal; it makes me regret not finishing the zoology degree I abandoned when I took up journalism!

  16. Erika Marks says:

    Julia, first of all, I LOVE being able to hear your voice! So wonderful! (But very sorry about your cold! 🙁 )

    My husband would be SO impressed by this. I can’t wait to share it with him. Allow me to add to the cries of brilliance of you and MEH. Crows are amazing birds–one might even say underrated. (But I tend to think that about so many birds…)

    Can’t wait to hear/see/read more results–excuse me, DATA!

  17. Erika, So happy you enjoyed this — thanks for your very kind comments — great fun and I hope your husband isn’t too bemused by our sloppy scientific methods 🙂 As for data…. yikes, I KNEW there was a section missing from our lab report, thank goodness for part 2! I agree, crows are highly underrated and I’d even say grossly misunderstood and disliked for unfair reasons! (p.s. the cold is annoying but not too bad. hope it didn’t interfere too much with my DEBUT 😉

  18. Lisa Ahn says:

    True confession — I’ve been slightly afraid of birds every since I was a kid. My stepmother’s parakeet liked to divebomb my head. And then last summer my sister in law’s parrot flapped at Boo Monkey and pooped on my husband’s back. Birds freak me out, unless they are far away. Then, I think they are lovely. But maybe your crow experiment will convert me — I’ll watch the video with one eye shut, just in case.

  19. I love this experiment!! As well as the way you wrote it up officially with citations and materials, method and procedure, etc. And having a Crow Log is brilliant. I loved the idea that I was listening to Scientist Julia delivering her report, complete with crow caws as background music.

    That was an adorable anecdote about the new car owner who was being followed by a crow who recognized it as the car that dispenses peanuts. Wow, by the time you and MEH are finished, you’re probably going to be inducted into Crowdom. They’re gonna love you!

    Can’t wait for Results and Conclusions on Thursday.

    ~ Milli

  20. Ann says:

    This is SO cool! I love the experiment, the audio excerpt and love, Love, LOVE the pic of MEH with the peanuts! I can’t wait to see how it turns out!

    BTW – you have a lovely voice!

  21. Now I see this as the possible set up for an unusual short story. Could go Hitchcock or a completely different direction . . .

    Side note: you and MEH crack me up!

  22. Lisa, I’m sorry about your bird fear — I think that’s a really normal, healthy fear considering your experiences! And I have to admit that occasionally when one of those crows flies really really close to me… YIKES, I have a momentary panic. Then I remind myself that they’re a lot more afraid of me than I am them (hint at Part 2: crows are very shy!). Hope the video tomorrow helps 🙂

    Milli, Glad you like our experiment! The crow log is so much fun for us, too. That “Scientist Julia” recording made ME feel like I was one of those NPR reporters “on the scene.” Back to my scientific and journalistic roots… As for Crowdom induction, MEH and I can only dare to dream 🙂

    Ann, Glad you enjoyed the experiment and audio, and thanks for the voice compliment (not my favorite part to include but intrinsic to the story!). I know, I agree about MEH’s debut photo on wordsxo… I love it too. His idea, darn it, wish I’d thought of it 🙂

    Nina, The short story is a GREAT idea… and the Hitchcock mention reminds me of what my daughter said, which will be revealed in part 2! Glad we crack you up — it’s a huge part of why we do this…. we have LOTS of fun together! 🙂

  23. This is so exciting! “Crow Log”…you guys crack me up.

    I hope you feel better. Have some tomato paste. It is my cure all.

  24. Sara, Glad to provide humor — always makes my day to hear we crack someone up! Really tomato paste? It’s on my list! (Thanks for the tip!! 🙂

  25. Jamie says:

    That made laugh. Loved how the woman wondered why the crow were following her car. I’ll have to look at the crow in a new light now. Look forward to your research.

  26. Jamie, Glad you enjoyed and got a laugh! I think Part 2 (which I posted today) will provide even more amusement! Isn’t that hilarious about the REAL scientist and her car? I’ll be curious to see what you think of our results, too. Any chance you’ll start feeding the crows now that you look at them in new light?

  27. This is so neat! I’m clearly a bit behind in my reading, so can’t wait to read today’s post!

  28. Leah, Glad you liked this post! And hope you enjoy the results one too! 🙂