Crows, those black, pesky, assertive birds, have an artistic side: They ‘tattoo’ themselves. In Santiago, Chile, researchers have discovered intricate markings that are revealed when the bird is examined under ultra-violet light.
“It’s a tribal pattern. You can see that birds of a similar region have similar markings. What’s more interesting is that the crow uses its saliva to make the pattern, it’s not like Blaschko’s lines, nor genetic,” says Javiera Franco, ornithologist and researcher, “The bird is responsible for making these patterns.”
The team went one further and relocated a crow to a different area. After a week, they discovered that the crow had updated its ink to match those of its compatriots. The findings required that a bird be tagged and monitored daily, then brought in for examination with special cameras, since the tattoos do not show on the black feathers under normal lighting conditions.
“We already knew crows were smart. This just confirms that they are highly complex creatures,” she says, “It displays a high level of intelligence and social interaction. I am keen to see if any other birds behave in this way, and if it has any effect on courtship.”