Wednesday, May 29, 2024

I really don't want to use "Counting Crows" as the title of this post, but man it's hard to ignore...

While at some point I might return to This Day in Anthro History posts highlighting examples of fictional animals walking and talking like people, I wanted to take a moment today just to point out something fascinating in the realm of nonhuman animals' demonstrating arguably human capabilities.  (I think I might be especially keyed into this topic as I follow Pun at Halls of the Nephilim in his creation of a TMNT-inspired RPG...!)

Last Thursday, an article dropped from the journal Science (one of the most reputable out there, so this is a reasonably notable study) in which researchers demonstrate that carrion crows - apparently already known to be able to count to 30 - can accurately vocalize counts up to four.  As in...these crows can see an Arabic numeral on a screen, or hear a sound that corresponds to a numeral, and caw the right number of times.

Four seems to be about the limit for this specific task.  According to the summary on

But they did make mistakes, usually after performing numerous trials and when the target number was three or four. “They loved the number one and really disliked four,” [lead author Diana A.] Liao says. Sometimes, the crows displayed their dislike of four by refusing to utter a sound; instead, they simply pecked at the screen to end the trial.

While it's easy to think, "You just told me they can count to 30...why is it interesting that they're counting to 4?"...the accurate vocalization in a "one, two, three" manner is what is really catching people's attention.  It's hard not to see a similarity to the way humans often learn to count.  And one of the neatest details here is that researchers were ultimately able to predict a crow's final "answer" according to the first caw indication that the crow knows (before speaking) exactly what it plans to say.

If I can add an assumption that the crows are happy to find themselves in this situation, I absolutely love this research.  If it sounds like your style, you can check out the Science summary HERE, a summary from noted bird apologists the National Audubon Society HERE, and the original paper HERE.


To celebrate this, here's an anthro crow character built using the online character generator for the Awfully Cheerful Engine (ACE) RPG from EN World's Morrus (Russ Morrissey) that acts as a huge tribute to the old Ghostbusters RPG and already includes some options for animal traits.  ACE is in the family of GB-inspired games I'm currently obsessed with statting stuff for...!


Crowbar (seems a bit like a silly TMNT-villain-style name)

Trait/Role: Unlucky Crow

Health 4, Defense 9

Brawn 2 (Tough)
Moves 3 (Piloting)
Smarts 5 (Physics)
Style 2 (Public Speaking)

Ability: Flight

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