Corvid time preference is for quality, not quantity

Or so it seems from one study:

How do the corvids stack up against us? “Crows and ravens performed comparably to primates and children tested in [similar] tasks,” Hillemann said. But one difference between the avian brain and the primate brain may be the way that they consider quality versus quantity. Birds usually aren’t willing to wait in order to increase the amount of food, only to optimize the quality of their reward. “This may be unique to birds,” she adds, “because carrying a large amount of food can be disadvantageous in flight.” On the other hand, a human child can fit two marshmallows in his mouth just as easily as one. While more research is needed, this lends support to the notion that this sort of impulse control is a case of convergent evolution, having evolved independently in the avian lineage and in our primate lineage.

I found the entire post of interest.


I have always been impressed with corvid intelligence, but reading this made me wonder about their ability to diffrentiate quantities abstractly. Parrots are thought to have the ability to count, pelicans and cormorants seem to be able to have the ability to keep a running tally. But this sort of delayed gratification may require the crow to remember an abstract number or some form of measuring quantity to recognize that taking a sausage now over a several sausages later might be a bad deal.

A few days ago I was feeding jackdaws at the metro station. I clearly saw how one jackdaw was analyzing and thinking about how to pick up two pieces of bread with his beak. He had picked up one already and was experimenting with the second one. Finally he/she succeeded and flew off with the double amount of bread. (I like corvids, when they look at you, you get the feeling that there's a real personality inside there ...)

You met Buridan's Jackdaw!

Experiments with crows show that they can count small numbers (up to 5 I think).

It would be interesting to see if the crows that waited the longest had better SAT scores than ones that didn't.

Humans are the only species of ape that will accept more of something they don't like as much for less of something they like more-- i.e. we are the only species that understands trade. I sometimes wonder if that wasn't considerably more important than opposeable thumbs.

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