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Discover why crows and ravens rule the roost

Published: 25 August 2021 at 15:45

A fledgling crow feeding

British Science Festival event will focus on the incredible world of corvids

Dr Claudia Wascher will head into the wild (of Chelmsford) during the British Science Festival to share her remarkable research into crows and ravens, two of the smartest birds around.

Dr Wascher, a behavioural ecologist at Anglia Ruskin University (ARU), will be Talking With Birds in Bell Meadow Park in Chelmsford on Tuesday, 7 September, in an event focusing on how these intelligent birds socialise and communicate.

Book your free place

Join Claudia for her British Science Festival event on 7 September. Book free tickets online.

Both crows and ravens, which along with rooks, jackdaws, magpies and jays are part of the corvid family of birds, display complex behaviours such as “delayed gratification” – the ability to wait for a better offer than the one in front of them – and they are also aware of when they are being treated unfairly.

Dr Wascher carried out the first ever study looking at how these birds behave when they are treated unequally.

When asked to exchange a token for either their favourite food (cheese) or a less exciting option (grapes), the crows and ravens stopped cooperating if they saw other birds receive a reward without exchanging their token or if they saw another bird receive cheese at the same time as they were given a grape.

Dr Wascher believes that this understanding of fairness and cooperation has helped corvids evolve into highly sociable birds. Some corvids such as jackdaws live in large groups, while crows typically live in family units.  And Dr Wascher has also found that the size of their family group has a direct impact on their health.

A study published in 2019 discovered that more sociable crows, living in larger groups, are generally healthier birds. Rather than large social groups increasing stress levels for the individuals, as is typically thought, the results of Dr Wascher’s six-year study confirmed her belief that crows enjoy being sociable and are happier, and therefore healthier, in larger groups.

Dr Wascher, Associate Professor of Biology at Anglia Ruskin University (ARU), said:

“Crows are incredibly sociable, and our study discovered that those with the strongest social bonds contained fewer parasites.  Physiological stress can dampen the immune system of birds, so to find that birds in larger family groups were healthier indicates that social interaction actually reduces their stress levels. 

“Thanks to their incredible intelligence, corvids are the most fascinating animals to work with.  In a recent study carried out at the University of Cambridge, the researchers performed sleight of hand magic tricks to six jays.  For two of the three tricks performed, the jays weren’t fooled while the 80 human participants were!

“In previous research I’ve also shown how crows have a long-term memory for recalling social information, such as the calls of others, while other biologists have found that ravens have the ability to remember social relationships over a period of years.  Corvids are some of the most intelligent creatures on earth and I’m looking forward to explaining more of their incredible talents at the British Science Festival.”


The British Science Festival 2021 is organised by the British Science Association, in partnership with Anglia Ruskin University (ARU). Dr Wascher’s Talking With Birds event will take place in Bell Meadow Park in Chelmsford on Tuesday, 7 September (1.30pm). To book a free ticket, visit https://britishsciencefestival.seetickets.com/event/talking-with-birds/bell-meadow-park/1986285