Crows find a novel use for coat hangers

We should all know by now that corvids (ravens, crows, etc.) are amazingly smart animals. But this is a new one on me. Amusing Planet gives a brief report and some nice photos of how crows in Tokyo make their nests using anthropogenic material. Indented prose is from the article:

Food isn’t the only motivation factor that drive crows to adaptability. Crows also demonstrate intelligence when building nests, using whatever materials that are available to construct them. A typical nest is composed of interlocking twigs, often recycled from the old nest, and pieces of wires of various lengths and thickness, gathered from the surrounding, to strengthen the nest structure. Tokyo residents have observed that crows in the city have learned to use coat hangers instead.

Photo from Goetz Kluge:

crow-nest-hanger-1[2]

In such a large city, there are few trees, so the natural materials that crows need to make their nests are scarce. As a result, the crows will often steal hangers from the people who live in apartments nearby, and carefully assemble them into intricate nests. The completed nests almost look like works of art.

Photo by Badaunt:

crow-nest-hanger-8[2]

Nests built from hangers were also discovered in other Japanese cities. In Fukuoka City, the Jungle Crow would often make nests atop power lines during the breeding season that could cause large blackouts due to short circuiting. The Kyushu Electric power company actually has “crow patrols” that search out and destroy hanger nests on their power grid.

Photo by Brian G. Kennedy:

crow-nest-hanger-2[6]

I seem to recall that my friend Amy, our erstwhile Japanese Correspondent who has vanished, told me that in Yokohama that crows would rip open garbage bags to steal the hangers.

 h/t: Todd

40 Comments

  1. Barry Lyons
    Posted May 13, 2014 at 9:49 am | Permalink

    That is both crazy unbelievable and brilliant.

  2. Timothy Hughbanks
    Posted May 13, 2014 at 10:28 am | Permalink

    Wow. I wouldn’t have believed that even crows would use coat hangars.

  3. travellingbaz
    Posted May 13, 2014 at 10:33 am | Permalink

    Neat – even birds are learning to recycle!

    • Draken
      Posted May 13, 2014 at 11:58 am | Permalink

      Hah, they’ll be learning to cycle in a whiffy!

      Oh wait, recycle…

  4. merilee
    Posted May 13, 2014 at 10:47 am | Permalink

    Maybe they hang out around dry cleaners.

  5. Torbjörn Larsson, OM
    Posted May 13, 2014 at 10:48 am | Permalink

    Coat hangers and cable consoles, obviously. Typical young nesting behavior, especially in city populations.

  6. anthrosciguy
    Posted May 13, 2014 at 11:08 am | Permalink

    Next step they’ll be stealing small TVs and using the nest as an antenna.

    • merilee
      Posted May 13, 2014 at 11:37 am | Permalink

      or the antenna as a nest

    • Posted May 13, 2014 at 11:38 am | Permalink

      To watch Magpie?

      /@ / Katowice

      • Jonathan Wallace
        Posted May 14, 2014 at 1:16 am | Permalink

        Or corvideos?

    • Draken
      Posted May 13, 2014 at 12:00 pm | Permalink

      That explains the cable holder. Can’t have those lose wires around, what with the kids and all.

      • Draken
        Posted May 13, 2014 at 12:01 pm | Permalink

        Loose. Lose!

        • merilee
          Posted May 13, 2014 at 12:43 pm | Permalink

          are ya some kinda looser? – LOL

        • starskeptic
          Posted May 13, 2014 at 7:08 pm | Permalink

          As long as the TSA agent uses a loose grip and doesn’t lose his grip…

  7. Posted May 13, 2014 at 12:10 pm | Permalink

    I bet it won’t be long before some crow figures out how to use leverage to unwind the twist at the top, and then to shape the hangers into even more useful forms….

    b&

    • still learning
      Posted May 13, 2014 at 3:53 pm | Permalink

      Next step: crow wire art.

      • Merilee
        Posted May 13, 2014 at 4:45 pm | Permalink

        And maybe Calder-like mobiles?

      • Posted May 13, 2014 at 4:49 pm | Permalink

        I sure wouldn’t put it past them. They’ve got more intelligence than Bower Birds, after all.

        b&

      • gravelinspector-Aidan
        Posted May 14, 2014 at 5:06 am | Permalink

        I think they’re already there.

    • mordacious1
      Posted May 13, 2014 at 5:22 pm | Permalink

      Leverage? Like a crowbar?

      • Posted May 13, 2014 at 5:25 pm | Permalink

        …or a pigeonhole…like the pigeons could stop the crows….

        b&

      • Merilee
        Posted May 13, 2014 at 5:42 pm | Permalink

        And then they’ll start serving drinks at the crowbar…

  8. Marcoli
    Posted May 13, 2014 at 12:19 pm | Permalink

    I venture that there are regional cultures of crows that learn this from other crows.

  9. Reginald Selkirk
    Posted May 13, 2014 at 1:46 pm | Permalink

    I’ve gone over tha top photo very carefully, and I cannot spot the nightjar.

    • gravelinspector-Aidan
      Posted May 14, 2014 at 5:07 am | Permalink

      Did you turn it over?

  10. reasonshark
    Posted May 13, 2014 at 2:20 pm | Permalink

    This is certainly intriguing behaviour. It suggests crows are pretty flexible urban animals. I wonder if there are regional cultural differences, similar to how different chimpanzee groups have different learned methods of tool use for collecting food. For instance, perhaps different crows favour different hanger types, or even different frame-like objects, in different areas?

  11. Hempenstein
    Posted May 13, 2014 at 2:32 pm | Permalink

    Noted that they also seem to have the sense not to use those irritating ones with the cardboard tubes. Or else they’re not available in Japan.

  12. switchnode
    Posted May 13, 2014 at 2:43 pm | Permalink

    When the crow patrols started destroying nests, the crows responded by building dummy nests. Not only do they serve as decoys for actual nests and add to the electric company’s problems, they give the crows a place to move into immediately if a real nest is destroyed. (Link.) Don’t underestimate the corvids!

    • Dominic
      Posted May 14, 2014 at 1:20 am | Permalink

      If this was the work of a modern artist folk would be falling over themselves to praise it!

  13. still learning
    Posted May 13, 2014 at 3:50 pm | Permalink

    Kinda gives a new definition to the term “hanging nests”.

  14. Jeffery
    Posted May 13, 2014 at 6:13 pm | Permalink

    I was reading an article about House Wrens a while back that mentioned finding a nest composed entirely of short pieces of badly-rusted wire; the spool had apparently fallen apart into a pile of identical-length pieces, as wire will often do, and was perceived by the wrens as a handy substitute for the small twigs they normally use.

  15. inkydisaster
    Posted May 13, 2014 at 6:24 pm | Permalink

    “NO WIRE HANGERS!”

  16. Posted May 13, 2014 at 7:20 pm | Permalink

    Loved the pictures.

    I often think of Amy, Yokohamamama. I don’t think I’ve seen anything from her since a short time after the tsunami. There’s been no activity on her blog. I do hope she and her family are doing well.
    Let us know Amy, if you are out there.

    • Dominic
      Posted May 14, 2014 at 1:18 am | Permalink

      Likewise… :(

  17. infiniteimprobabilit
    Posted May 14, 2014 at 2:33 am | Permalink

    “In Fukuoka City, the Jungle Crow would often make nests atop power lines during the breeding season that could cause large blackouts due to short circuiting.”

    Maybe if the Japanese were to switch to using only plastic (non-conductive) coat hangers…

  18. Posted May 14, 2014 at 4:06 am | Permalink

    So that’s why I never have enough hangers…

  19. Posted May 14, 2014 at 9:40 am | Permalink

    Corvids never cease to amaze. No wonder people all over the earth found them so spooky and worth thinking and mythologizing about.

  20. marksolock
    Posted May 21, 2014 at 11:52 am | Permalink

    Reblogged this on Mark Solock Blog.


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