Why would a crow need a train ticket? To be honest, we're not really sure but that didn’t stop one eager bird attempting to purchase a ride from a ticket machine at Tokyo’s Kinshichō Station.
Twitter user @kinoshi42155049 posted a video of the inquisitive crow having a nosey around the ticket machine before it hopped across to the adjacent machine, stole a woman's credit card, and tried to slot it into the card reader. It didn't quite succeed in its mission to buy the ticket but it came impressively close.
So, did the corvid know what it was doing? Or was it simply captivated by a pretty, shiny thing? (I.e. the hologram sticker on the card.)
It's hard to tell. It's pretty safe to say the crow wasn't intending to hitch a ride on the slow train but it could have been mimicking human behavior it had observed at the station. After all, corvids are thought to be the most intelligent species of bird and among some of the smartest animals on the planet.
In the past, studies have shown that crows are exemplary problem solvers, master tool makers, and adept barterers. They can even surpass a human child when it comes to tasks such as planning for the future and understanding the physics of displacement.
What's especially important for this particular story and this particular crow is corvids' ability to reason cause and effect. In a 2012 study published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, researchers tested New Caledonian crows' capacity to understand hidden causal mechanisms using a stick.
In the first scenario, a human entered a hide, moved a stick, and then left the hide again. In the second scenario, the crows could see the stick move but not the human. The crows were more cautious in the second example when the movement of the stick appeared to be "unexplained". These differences, the researchers said at the time, imply crows can reason about hidden causal agents.
Did the crow know that putting the card in the card reader could get it a ticket? Who knows, but it is certainly a possibility.