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September 5, 2000

Carnage in Chatham, Canada

Gives New Meaning to Birdbrain

by Paul Kail

The city council in Chatham, Ontario, has hired men to go round the city at night shooting crows. Suppose these had been baby monkeys, or run-away children. Would they be doing the same thing? Probably not.

We are used to the idea that in order to be intelligent, an animal needs a large cerebral cortex, and we can therefore accept the idea that chimpanzees, dolphins, elephants and even humans are intelligent. Birds do not have large cortices: instead, another part of the brain, called the hyperstriatum is well developed. Crows, ravens and magpies are in a group known as the corvids. These birds have very large hyperstriata, and their brain-to-body mass ratio is about the same as that of dolphins.

Here are some facts about crow intelligence which the councilors in Chatham ought to think about before they send out the firing squads again:

The intelligence of crows has been known since ancient times, and they are the subject of many legends. They are often credited with supernatural powers. For example, in Roman times, the members of the Roman College of Augurs foretold the future by listening to the croaking of crows.

Unfortunately, the animals' high intelligence has created irrational fears in some humans. This has lead to the animals being persecuted, a phenomenon known as corvophobia. This may be what has gripped the councilors of Chatham, Ontario.

If you would like to express your feelings to the person responsible for killing 30,000 crows, please e-mail Bill Erickson at


Paul Kail has a Ph.D. from the University of Cambridge in Neurophysiology who specializes in issues of animal intelligence and consciousness, animal rights and animal welfare. He has published books and articles in various countries around the world.


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