Corvid altruism?

Reader Amy called my attention to this new video, which seems to show a crow not only sharing his bread with a mouse, but actually bringing it to the mouse. Could it be he’s trying to trap the mouse to eat it? I don’t think so. Could it be altruism? Hard to believe!

Judge for yourself:


  1. busterggi
    Posted February 22, 2018 at 2:37 pm | Permalink

    Hey, I don’t know their personal history. Crows are problem solvers and both have their own personalities. maybe the crow just finds the mouse amusing.

    • rickflick
      Posted February 22, 2018 at 2:47 pm | Permalink

      Exactly what I thought. It’s amusing to us, why not to the crow?

  2. Taskin
    Posted February 22, 2018 at 2:42 pm | Permalink

    That’s really cool. I am surprised that the crow would leave the large chunk of bread unattended for that length of time. The crow seems to put a lot of effort into leaving the mouse’s bread in a good location for the mouse. Very interesting!

    • eric
      Posted February 22, 2018 at 7:53 pm | Permalink

      Yeah I had the same thought. A well-fed omnivore helping out a smaller animal for not particular reason? Not that surprising. Just yet another example of a behavior humans think we own (this time, “I’m feeling generous, what the hell…”) being observed in animals. OTOH…the crow turning it’s back on it’s big stash of bread to do it? Very surprising.

      A friend of mine used to refer to himself as ‘fat dumb and happy’ after a big carb meal. That must be one fat dumb and happy crow.

  3. ThyroidPlanet
    Posted February 22, 2018 at 2:43 pm | Permalink


  4. Sian Evans
    Posted February 22, 2018 at 2:44 pm | Permalink

    A great example of idiosyncratic behavior captured on a nice video. While the behavior may have its roots in typical corvid behavior it may not have much (any) evolutionary significance. The bird had a huge piece of bread and may not have been sacrificing much (or anything) in offering (maybe) the mouse a couple of crumbs.

  5. Randall Schenck
    Posted February 22, 2018 at 2:44 pm | Permalink

    He appears to hide the bread for the mouse? These birds are amazing.

    • Don Mackay
      Posted February 23, 2018 at 2:15 am | Permalink

      Hiding the bread for the mouse? Surely the bread is out of line-of-sight from the mouse, in which case the bird is hiding the bread from the mouse in attempt to find out how intelligent the mouse is. You will notice the bird left a smelly deposit to maybe confuse the mouse, to act as a kind of control. This is one very smart corvid!

      • glen1davidson
        Posted February 23, 2018 at 2:53 am | Permalink

        I don’t know, it’s kind of confusing. On the one hand, the crow’s being rather obvious with the bit of bread it’s got. On the other hand, it hides it. And it seems like the most ridiculous place to hide it if it actually intended to retrieve it at some point (it didn’t, I’m thinking).

        The mouse certainly isn’t in any doubt about where the bread should be, although it might wonder if the bird actually left it there, or just pretended to stash food. Did the crow just go through the motions of hiding it, knowing that the mouse would be sure to look for a hidden piece? Or is the crow just going through the ritual of hiding it because it seems right (you don’t just throw food on the ground), even though it’s basically being given to the mouse.

        I’m assuming that the crow expects a rodent to be smart enough to find something that it hid, because I’m pretty sure that they do know that about squirrels, at least if the crow has been around a while. Why not a mouse, too?

        Maybe it’s playing with the rodent, possibly judging how good mice are at finding the crow’s stashes, or maybe just enjoying a bit of hiding and seeking.

        Glen Davidson

        • rickflick
          Posted February 23, 2018 at 7:32 am | Permalink

          Those are plausible interpretations. I also had the thought that the crow notices he’s being watched and filmed. He’s deciding how best to confuse his main audience – us.

  6. glen1davidson
    Posted February 22, 2018 at 2:47 pm | Permalink

    Cute, anyway.

    The crow’s probably well fed, so can now feed its curiosity and/or emotions.

    Glen Davidson

  7. garthdaisy
    Posted February 22, 2018 at 2:57 pm | Permalink

    Can anyone tell if it’s a female? Mothering instinct extension aided by a situation of abundance?

    What’s most fascinating to me is the theory of mind. The crow had to put together that the mouse wanted the bread, and was afraid of the crow, and then it solved that problem for the mouse. Unbelievable!

    • rickflick
      Posted February 22, 2018 at 3:28 pm | Permalink

      Mothering instinct extends to fathers in most bird species I’m familiar with. But, you make a good point. It could be a mixture of nurturing and amusement.

    • Posted February 22, 2018 at 5:44 pm | Permalink

      It amazed me too – we knew corvids could make connections- they do it when using tools, but the behaviour is amazing, I think.
      Definitely altruistic, in my book.

  8. Posted February 22, 2018 at 3:05 pm | Permalink

    My first thought was if the crow left, the mouse would be able to get all the bread it could carry.

    Crows are smart, so they can be bored. Just looking for some entertainment is my guess. Kind of like the humans watching the video?

  9. chcubic
    Posted February 22, 2018 at 3:05 pm | Permalink

    According to the theory of inclusive fitness, mice and crows must share some ‘green-beard’ genes.

  10. Posted February 22, 2018 at 3:29 pm | Permalink

    The crow covers the crumb with some plant debris; perhaps this was only caching behavior for a later snack (for the crow) there must have been further interaction between the two endotherms which would have illuminated the reason for the behavior

    • Torbjörn Larsson
      Posted February 24, 2018 at 10:04 am | Permalink

      That was my immediate reaction too, a typical “hide from my own species” behavior that was spoiled by an obvious problem…

      Young corvids have to learn too!

  11. Mike Anderson
    Posted February 22, 2018 at 3:48 pm | Permalink

    Soon the mouse will bring its whole family to dine with the friendly crow. Then the crow strikes. Smart.

    • Jenny Haniver
      Posted February 22, 2018 at 4:24 pm | Permalink

      Then the crow would have a bunch of mouse tails to pull? After viewing the video of the crows messing with the fighting cats, I’ve seen other videos of crows tormenting rats, and actually ganging up on one, keeping it from escaping — one would pull its tail, then another, and another, and when it tried to scurry away, they dragged it back for another round, finally leaving it looking like a punch-drunk boxer.

      I’d doubt that it’s a set-up, but what do I know. Wish I could ask a crow.

      • rickflick
        Posted February 22, 2018 at 4:39 pm | Permalink

        If you could ask a crow, you’d be a man who,
        Walks with the animals,
        Talks with the animals,
        Grunts and squeaks and squawks with the animals.

  12. BJ
    Posted February 22, 2018 at 4:32 pm | Permalink

    It’s certainly not beyond the realm of possibility. Corvids have regularly shown reciprocal altruism through gift-giving to humans who help them. They have a brain to body mass ration nearly as high as great apes.

  13. Posted February 22, 2018 at 6:46 pm | Permalink

    Fattening up the mice for Easter?

    Well, this could be a nice crow noticing the mouse was hungry but scared, and so chose to share because it could (wasn’t that hungry or had lots of bread).

    • Posted February 24, 2018 at 9:47 pm | Permalink

      I’ve had a chance to think this one over, and I’m now quite sure it isn’t crow altruism.

      Having observed my dogs stashing (and pretending to stash) treats, and having squirrels and chipmunks observing *me* ‘stashing’ (planting) sunflower seeds and such, only to have them dig them out(!@#%!) by said rodents, I’m sure the crow is very cleverly tricking/distracting the pesky rat.

      She’s pretending to stash the bread in a secret place, knowing fully well that the rat is watching her. The rat will find the morsel because it will be able to smell it under the leaves, and will be, more than likely, satisfied with its find, and won’t bother the crow anymore. The crow puts the morsel closer to the rat’s route, since it’s within its safe zone’ for foraging.

  14. Posted February 22, 2018 at 8:11 pm | Permalink

    How about this: the person making the video trained the crow to do this. Otherwise the scenario seems quite implausible: the person just happened to be taking a video of a crow eating bread in a parking lot (why?), and the mouse just happened to show up (I have never once seen a mouse running around in a parking lot in broad daylight!), and the crow just happened to exhibit this behavior?? Color me skeptical.

  15. Posted February 22, 2018 at 9:03 pm | Permalink

    It is hard to know if sharing is altruism. My wife insists on putting out peanuts on the patio for the many steller’s jays around here. Unfortunately, the crows horned in so I built her a contraption whereby the jays could access the peanuts but the crows could not. After a while I observed the jays taking peanuts out of the contraption and leaving them where the crows could get them. My theory is that the jays do that to stop the crows from following them (and their peanuts) back to their nests.

    • Posted February 22, 2018 at 9:52 pm | Permalink

      I actually saw a research post when looking for links about altruism in crows, which mentioned altruism is well known in jays! I know nothing of them, as we don’t have them here (Australia(.

  16. ladyatheist
    Posted February 22, 2018 at 9:58 pm | Permalink

    It looks like pure altruism, but could it be a distraction? The rat gets on the crow’s nerves, so he gives the rat a little piece to keep it occupied. The piece is a little too small to do that for long, but that’s my cynical response to my initial hope that it’s altruism.

    • Posted February 22, 2018 at 11:12 pm | Permalink

      My cynical response is that the crow would peck the annoying rat’s eyes out rather than give it bread.

  17. FB
    Posted February 22, 2018 at 11:36 pm | Permalink

    I witnessed a few years ago crows protecting a very young jack rabbit from a cat. The cat had to hide underneath a car until it was dark. The whole thing lasted a few hours. It’s probably altruism.

  18. kps
    Posted February 23, 2018 at 12:03 am | Permalink

    If I remember my Æsop correctly, the mouse will save the crow’s life in a few years.

  19. loren russell
    Posted February 23, 2018 at 1:54 am | Permalink

    My theory is that the humans have been putting out poison bait, and the mouse is the food-taster. If it doesn’t drop dead, the crow brings the whole loaf back to his nest.

  20. loren russell
    Posted February 23, 2018 at 1:54 am | Permalink

    .. and the mouse too if the brood is hungry.

  21. Posted February 23, 2018 at 2:18 am | Permalink

    Speaking of Æsop, another possibility is that the crow needs the mouse to solve a pitcher problem.

  22. chrism
    Posted February 23, 2018 at 5:35 am | Permalink

    If that crow is the same size as the crows I’m used to in the UK and in Canada, I’m afraid to say that ‘mouse’ isn’t a mouse at all. It’s a half-grown rat. Bad crow! Don’t feed the rats! Feed the squirrels and the chipmunks! 🙂

  23. Posted February 23, 2018 at 6:44 am | Permalink

    Another reason to love crows (my favorite in class aves).

  24. Andrea Kenner
    Posted February 23, 2018 at 7:20 am | Permalink

    Maybe the crow didn’t want the mouse bugging him, so he figured if he gave the mouse a little bite he could eat his bread in peace.

    Also, I’m not so sure that’s a mouse. It looks like a small rat to me too!

  25. Posted February 23, 2018 at 9:25 am | Permalink

    There could be some mechanism through which the bird is benefitting here.

    Or it might just have a brain tumor…

  26. Kevin Lawson
    Posted February 24, 2018 at 12:18 pm | Permalink

    We want to anthropomorphize the crow and analyze its actions accordingly. However, it may be motivated by instincts we know nothing about. Those instincts could cause useful behavior in most situations in most crows, yet in some special cases they could lead to aberrant behavior that is disadvantageous, or neutral.

  27. qp83
    Posted February 24, 2018 at 9:00 pm | Permalink

    Looks more like its trying to hide the bread and save it for a better day. I’ve seen dogs hide stuff all the time right in front of both dogs and other animals and then be suprised when others finds it and quickly runs back to chase them away, only to repeat it over and over again.

    • qp83
      Posted February 24, 2018 at 9:10 pm | Permalink

      Also seen dogs dig up hidden food right after and in front of the hider and take it, then the hider sees this, goes to the hiding place and sniffs around for several minutes looking very confused as if it has no idea what happened to their food even though the thief is lying just a few feet away chewing on it.

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