Monday, August 06, 2007

Making a fuss for just caws

One of the researchers wearing a mask to attract the interest of crows on the University of Washington campus.(King 5 TV photo)

Wait ’til my family hears about this one: crows can hold a grudge. This explains so much: now we know why our farmyard is always so noisy, especially when any of us walk out into the yard. Perhaps they recall all the times we’ve tried to get rid of crows in the past.

University of Washington researchers have proven that crows recognize their target and will put up a fuss whenever they spot who they dislike.

Professor John Marzloff’s work was profiled in a recent King 5 television news story. Rather than show long lists of research data to prove the conclusion, researchers demonstrated how the work was done and what were the results.

As the television story explains, “a year-and-a-half ago, UW researchers wore a caveman mask when they captured, tagged and released seven crows. Since then they have taken regular strolls through campus.

“Professor John Martzloff starts the experiment by walking around without the mask in plain view. The crows in the area seem to pay no attention to him.

“But, once he slips on the mask and retraces his route, the crows start chattering. After a few steps, the crows begin scolding him. If he takes the mask off — nothing.”

Interestingly, when he has the mask on, the crows don’t just keep their excitement to themselves. They chatter to other crows. They attract other crows that also chatter loudly. And they teach the next generation to also chatter and fuss at the mask — crows that weren’t present at the original capture and release.

Tests have also shown that if the mask and accompanying hat are transferred to someone else beside the professor, the crows will caw at anyone who wears the mask. This shows they recognize the face. Or at least that of a really ugly face and hat.

No result was given on how humans on campus reacted to the masked man among them, or whether they also spread the message to their peers.

The researchers estimate that at times up to 50 percent of the crows now on campus now respond to the mask.

Does this mean that crows should be recognized in some way for their accomplishment? Perhaps a new level of honors should be bestowed to them, such as degrees crows cum laude (slightly higher than cum laude and not quite magna cum laude).

All this research may explain what triggers the campus crows, but still leaves unanswered why so many of us remain subjected to other crows cawing loudly at 5 each morning when we’re still in bed.

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1 comment:

Casey Applen said...

I saw the newstory.

Quite clearly, it must have been a soft week for hard news.

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