Crows Know When You're Looking at Them

Crows can tell if you are looking at them, and respond accordingly. The finding is the first of its kind in a wild animal.

Crows are pretty smart creatures. They can use tools to get food, recognize people (and even the cars they drive), and have shown signs of extensive social behavior. But it is pretty unusual for a wild animal to respond to human facial expressions or eye contact. While any dog owner (and possibly cat owner) can tell you that these pets can read our emotions and faces, this behavior has never been observed in wild animals. Now, a new report led by Dr. Barbara Clucas, from Humboldt State University in northern California, USA, shows that crows can indeed read and respond to human eye contact. The finding suggests that modern crows learned to read human faces, a likely adaptation to urban environments, where they have to cope with more people.

In their study, Dr. Clucas found that when an approaching human gazed directly at a crow, the bird flew away earlier (and with a greater sense of urgency) than when the approaching human averted his or her gaze from the crow. However, adding either a scowling or smiling facial expression had no different effect on the crow's flight behavior, indicating that the crows responded to direct gazing, and not to any emotional expression.

The results suggest that crows use our eyes as a way to read our intentions: more harm may come to a crow if an oncoming human is staring at it!

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