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Gifts of the Crow: How Perception, Emotion, and Thought Allow Smart Birds to Behave Like Humans Hardcover

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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 304 pages
  • Publisher: Atria Books; 1 edition (June 5, 2012)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 143919873X
  • ISBN-13: 978-1439198735
  • Product Dimensions: 9.4 x 6.4 x 1.1 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1 pounds
  • Average Customer Review: 4.3 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (78 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #167,931 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Editorial Reviews


"A great read, this book is a tribute to the little-known and underappreciated minds of the birds of the amazing corvid family. Serious and at times hilarious, it pulled me in with its telling anecdotes and scientific context. Most importantly, it acknowledges and explores the many complex similarities between crows' mental traits and our own." --Bernd Heinrich, author of Mind of the Raven

“Researchers writing about comparative human and nonhuman cognition always make brief, obligatory reference to the underlying neurological and hormonal systems, but Marzluff and Angell actually provide us with the details. In lucid, logical, and articulate prose, they carefully explain all the interrelated mechanisms involved in the fascinating behavior patterns of their corvid subjects and how these mechanisms relate to those of humans. Their book is indeed a gift, not only to those of us eager to learn about corvid behavior but also but also to those who wish to understand the bases for these actions.” –Irene M. Pepperberg, author of Alex & Me: How a Scientist and a Parrot Uncovered a Hidden World of Animal Intelligence--and Formed a Deep Bond in the Process

“John Marzluff and Tony Angell's amazing, true stories of crows who rage, grieve, give gifts, work together, and even design and use tools would be enough to make this book a great read. But these maverick scientists go a step further, and actually show how these birds' big brains, though different from our own, achieve many of the same feats. Gifts of the Crow is a gift to all of us who have argued for years that humans don't possess the only minds in the universe. This is one of the most exciting books I've read in a long time.” --Sy Montgomery, author of Birdology

"In this important work, you’ll find stunning examples of crow emotionality and intelligence -- a triumphant vindication for those who have known all along that animals are capable of much more than they’re generally given credit for. Crows dream as part of their learning process, for instance, and profile other individuals’ behavior and act accordingly. In many ways, their intelligence is equal to that of the great apes. Fascinating." --Stacey O'Brien, author of Wesley the Owl

“Gifts of the Crow is a compelling book. Filled with wonderful stories of regular people’s interactions with ravens, crows, and jays, it also cites engrossing scientific studies, reports on the field work of biologists, and offers detailed explanations of how the brain of a corvid actually works. I was fascinated.” -- Suzie Gilbert, author of Flyaway: How A Wild Bird Rehabber Sought Adventure and Found Her Wings

"Throughout much of human history crows have been our constant companions. In their exciting new book, Marzluff and Angell, show us how crows brains work, while providing the evidence that these cerebral birds have a lot more in common with us than we ever imagined. And Angell's illustrations alone make the book worth the price." --Paul R. Ehrlich, co-author of The Birder's Handbook

"Full of clear and detailed accounts of research...remarkable." (NYTimes)

"Angell’s illustrations of birds are exquisitely detailed... the book will instill in many readers a sense of wonder and curiosity at what these birds can do. An insightful look at some of our surprisingly capable feathered friends." (Kirkus)

"Amazing" (Seattle Times)

“Delightful… a series of intriguing stories and stunning illustrations that together reveal the sophisticated cognitive abilities of crows and their relation­ship with humans." (Nature)

"With its abundance of funny, awe-inspiring, and poignant stories, Gifts of the Crow portrays creatures who are nothing short of amazing. A testament to years of painstaking research and careful observation, this fully illustrated, riveting work is a thrilling look at one of nature's most wondrous creatures." (

“A remarkable look at just how smart the common crow and raven are… Highly recommended.” (Library Journal)

About the Author

John Marzluff, Ph.D., is Professor of Wildlife Science at the University of Washington. The author of four books and over one hundred scientific papers on various aspects of bird behavior, he is the recipient of the A. Brazier Howell, Board of Directors, and H.R. Painton awards from the Cooper Ornithological Society.
Tony Angell has authored and/or illustrated a dozen award-winning books related to natural history.

More About the Author

I am a Professor of Wildlife Science at the University of Washington. My graduate (Northern Arizona University) and initial post-doctoral (University of Vermont) research focused on the social behavior and ecology of jays and ravens. I was especially interested in communication, social organization, and foraging behavior. My current research brings this behavioral approach to pressing conservation issues including conservation of endangered species, urban ecology, and the varied connections between crows and people. I enjoy blending biology, conservation, and anthropology to suggest that human and crow cultures have co-evolved. My most recent work applies a neurobiological perspective to understand the amazing feats of corvids (crows, ravens, jays and their kin). In addition to teaching, research, and writing, I am a member of the board of editors for Acta Ornithologica and Ecological Applications, and leader of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service's Recovery Team for the critically endangered Mariana Crow, a former member of the Washington Biodiversity Council, and a Fellow of the American Ornithologist's Union.

I enjoy fishing, hiking, downhill skiing, and sea kayaking. My wife, Colleen, and I have always had dogs. We detail our growing addiction to sled dogs in Dog Days, Raven Nights, but now live with 3 border collies. We have two daughters.

I read mostly non-fiction. I love works about the west including those by William O. Douglas, Wallace Stegner, and Douglas Brinkley.

Customer Reviews

This book was very informative.
Katherine Keough
This book goes into great detail about the brain of this animal and spices it up with real life stories showing the remarkable intelligence of crows and raven.
I would highly recommend this book for even just enjoyment reading!

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

148 of 159 people found the following review helpful By Hertfordshire Chris on June 11, 2012
Format: Hardcover
With one significant reservation I really enjoyed this book. I love watching birds visiting the feeders in my garden, especially the magpies, and knew that the crow family included some of the most intelligent birds. I am also, as you will know if you have read my blog, very interested in animal intelligence, and what it can tell us about human intelligence. This book contains some wonderful accounts of, for example, the ability of crows to recognise individual people, and the account of ravens surfing the Colorado winds makes one wonder what other things they can get up to which have not yet been documented. Details are brought together of many accounts of apparently intelligent behaviour, together with descriptions of well planned experiments, which combine to make you realize how smart some birds really are. For those who want to explore further there are extra notes and an extensive bibliography. If you are interested in animal intelligence or bird behaviour this book is a "must read".

The problem is that really it is not one book but two. The part I have described is concerned with the behavioural evidence which demonstrates the intelligent behaviour in the crow family. It is written in an easy to read style - and the description on the dust cover confines itself to this part of the book, suggesting that the publishers were also aware of the problem and avoided mentioning something which could put some readers off. There is no doubt that if the book stopped at the point I described above I would be very happy to give a copy to an intelligent 12 year old bird watching enthusiast and suggest that they start looking for, and recording, the behaviour of the crows and magpies they see.
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18 of 18 people found the following review helpful By Amazon Customer on July 25, 2012
Format: Kindle Edition Verified Purchase
I got this book for the Kindle, and wanted to read it myself. However, my spouse, who was not so much a bird person, took a liking to it, and loaded it to his Kindle first.

For the past two weeks as he's read this book, I get daily reports of how interesting the book is, how amazing these birds are, and what great anecdotes the author includes. The crows really do bring "gifts" to people they like. And they remember people as well.

The book goes into a bit of the brain structure and in depth about genetically as well. When I read it, I may skip over the more technical and scientific aspects of the work. But I am happy to report that my observations about bird behavior, their habits and likes and fears, dovetails with what this author presents based on science and experiments, not just a layman's observations. I'm very pleased to report that my spouse has dropped the expression "bird brain" to indicate someone without cognitive powers. Now in our household there are two bird lovers.

When I have a chance to read it, I'll update it from my non-scientific point of view. But, for all the good conversation it has already stimulated, it is worth reading.
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7 of 7 people found the following review helpful By Casketspider on October 7, 2012
Format: Kindle Edition Verified Purchase
Fantastic Book! On my second reading. So much info and just increases my love of these animals.Anyone who loves our feathered friends will surely enjoy and learn much from reading this.
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6 of 6 people found the following review helpful By KLC on August 2, 2012
Format: Kindle Edition Verified Purchase
Gifts of the Crow will facinate anyone who reads the book. They are so smart it's no wonder they are called "the feathered apes!" The documented stories of their adventures will interest bird lovers. There is quite a bit of technical data in the book which could discourage some folks, but stay with it so you don't miss any of the great stories. I personally am conducting a "Crow feeding experiment" of my own and have received 2 gifts from the Crow clan. KLC
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13 of 17 people found the following review helpful By fig tree on August 5, 2012
Format: Hardcover
In many ways this is a wonderful book, filled with valuable information about crows and ravens. It does, however, rather miss the mark in a few ways. The authors, despite all their arguments relating to the similarities between crow and human behavior, still suffer from anthropocentricism, repeatedly using the terms "humans" and "animals" as though humans belonged to a seperate and superior class of being. This is even reflected in the book's subtitle, which more properly should read "How Perception, Emotion, and Thought Allow Smart Birds and Humans to Behave in Similar Ways." Another disconcerting element is the authors' seeming inability to decide whether they are writing a textbook or a work for a general audience. Referring to themselves in the third person, by first name, in the text is a decidedly odd compromise between the two. I could not help feeling throughout my reading of "Gifts of the Crow" that the authors' deep appreciation and fondness for corvids was continually being kept under scientific wraps, only to pop out briefly now and then in a side comment.
All of that aside, this is still a great book about corvids. If you are interested in a more vibrant look at crows, from the naturalists' point of view, and one where the fascinating and illustrative stories are in the witnesses' own voices, I recommend Michael Westerfield's "The Language of Crows", available from the website.
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3 of 3 people found the following review helpful By David Keymer TOP 1000 REVIEWERVINE VOICE on October 12, 2012
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
BIRKHEAD, Tim. Bird Sense: What It's Like to Be a Bird. Walker. 2012. 266 + xxii p, illus., bibliog., index. $25.

MARZLUFF, John, and ANGELL, Tony. Gifts of the Crow: How Perception, Emotion, and Thought Allow Smart Birds to Behave Like Humans. Free Press. 2012. 289 + xiv p., illus., bibliog., index. $25.

HERZOG, Hal. Some We Love, Some We Hate, Some We Eat: Why It's So Hard to Think Straight About Animals. HarperCollins. 2010. 226 + viii p. $25.99.

Good science writing is hard to beat. It's crisp, provides you with new insights into the physical world, and if the writer is good, opens up new worlds to you.

Two of these three books -by Birkhead and Marzluff and Angell-- satisfy me on this level. The third -by Herzog-- does not.
The two books on birds were part of a larger packet of books I bought from Amazon to satisfy my curiosity about these animals I can't ignore but know little about. I had read one book by Berndt Heinrich, a brilliant animal ethologist, on ravens so I bought three more (one on ravens, one -a classic--on bumblebees, and one autobiographical), which I have yet to read. These two books got caught up in the web of that buying spree.

I[m just as interested in our attitudes toward animals -why are some okay to eat and others not? why do some repulse us and others not at all?--so I was looking for books on that topic too, and Herzog's popped up, along with a book by one of my favorite quirky historians, R. W. Bulliett, Hunters, Herders and Hamburgers (2005).

This digression is simply to establish that I have a serious, though not scholarly, interest in the topics of animal capabilities and personalities and on how we perceive and relate to different kinds of animals.
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