Crow snowboards on mayonnaise lid (?)

December 19, 2013 • 3:32 pm

This video, from deathandtaxes via reader Kelly Houle, shows a crow apparently using a mayonnaise lid to snowboard down a roof.

But after watching it a few times, I wonder if the bird is really trying to have fun, even though we know that some animals do play, and that crows are wicked smart. But this bird looks as if it’s trying to nom the mayonnaise out of the lid, and the sliding is just a byproduct of the pecking at residual food. The crow has to stand in it, of course, to steady it for its pecks.

What say you?

Russian translations welcome.

54 thoughts on “Crow snowboards on mayonnaise lid (?)

  1. Definitely play. Each time the lid stops, it’s firmly lodged and not going anywhere, providing a solid platform for the crow to get at whatever might be in there, yet it carries the lid back to the top. And, at about the 42″ mark, after it’s stopped, the crow pecks at the snow in what looks like an attempt to get it to slide farther.


    P.S. Hi, Kelly! I’ve been doing some experimentation with multispectral imaging that show theoretical promise but nothing yet that’s practical to do in the real world…but I’ve got some ideas…. b&

    1. I agree completely that the crow is playing. I have watched crows for many years, and they do a lot of goofing off. They are, apparently not as smart as ravens, and anyone who has travelled in the Southwest in particular has seen smart ravens working the tourists. I have had ravens fly right up to my head with no hostility evident. For hostility try a brooding brown thrasher. Crows play “king of the mountain” and once established in an urban area are just about impossible to exile. They learn to open black plastic garbage bags to explore the contents.They’re smart and playful.

      1. I concur that it is play. I think he pecks the lid to start it sliding, not to get anything off it. When the pecking no longer makes it slide, he carries it back to the top.

    2. Yeah I agree – the crow is playing and that’s why he/she keeps flying up to the top to enjoy the ride & why he/she pecks it to get moving.

    3. One thing I noticed is that when the crow stops sliding, the more it pecks the lid, the more the lid gets covered in snow, preventing it from eating what’s on it.
      So, the crow might be flying the lid back up to the top of the roof because it knows that when it takes the lid there, it has no snow on it.
      Also, as the crow slides down with the lid it is flapping its wings a great deal which to me seems like it is trying to prevent the lid from sliding.

  2. We once watched a crow slide down the snowy roof of our barn. The first time was an accident, but then the crow flew back up to the peak and deliberately slid down again. The bird did this about half a dozen times. I asked an ornithologist friend of mine about it, and she wasn’t surprised; she said crows love play and are known for it, but added that this was the first time she’d heard of a crow playing otter-down-the-riverbank!

  3. I think this crow is playing, at least in part, and getting some noms as a bonus. I’ve seen crows near my home (California) sliding down electrical wiring, then flying up to the top to do it over & over–no noms, so I definitely suspect play.

  4. If the bird was just trying to get the leftover food out of the container, why does it keep taking the lid up to the top of the roof? Why doesn’t it just try pecking out the food at the bottom of the slope? The fact that the bird continually takes the lid back up to the top is the tip-off that this is purposeful play behavior.

    1. Almost this exact comment was made by Xuuths the last time this video appeared on WEIT, so I’ll reproduce here exactly what I said then:

      As for why he might carry it back up to the top rather than eat it where it is stable, it could be that he feels the top perch is safer from predators. I have observed that my parakeet seems ill at ease unless he is as high as he can easily be. If I hold him on my finger, he will walk up my arm to my shoulder. If I hold my finger higher than my shoulder, he’ll stay there. Maybe it’s just a quirk of my bird, but it is easy to imagine that some birds might not feel safe and relaxed unless they are at the top of whatever perch they are on. After all, from the lower position you are vulnerable to a kitteh coming down from above, whereas at the top, you can see all the threats, and those threats have to come up at you.

      Of course, it still looks to me like play. The possibilities are endless! We need more data.

  5. When we see the crow slide down the snowy roof for the first time, one can see that it is basically following a furrow in the snow left over from sliding down previously. My impression is that it is playing.

  6. Crows are indeed smart, and I’ve seen a video where people were taken aback by this crow that apparently liked cigarettes. However, it was surmised that the crow was actually after the smoke coming off of the lit cigarette…. it was bathing in the smoke to rid itself of parasites.

    So I’m wondering if the birds playing in snow are similarly trying to dislodge parasites or perhaps just taking a more funner snow bath.

    1. Of course, Mayo Crow is somewhat different, and I still wonder if engaging in active behaviour (play or not) helps to raise its base metabolism and keeps it warmer. And I still wonder if, in the process, it’s getting a little melted snow to drink. (slide down with lid to scoop snow, go back up on roof line where it’s sunnier/warmer, snow on lid melts, etc.)

      1. ..oops.. I meant basic rate of metabolism or metabolic rate. Birds (like us) shiver to keep warm but engaging in other activities like lid tobogganing might be a fun way to keep warm. 🙂

        1. Indeed, if you want to raise your base metabolism, short of drugs that’re going to mess you up if you use them for any period of time, the only way to do so is by building up lean body mass — mostly muscle, but tendon and bone as well. And the only way to do that, again without drugs (like steroids), is with exercise.

          That’s the health benefit of exercise. The calories you burn while exercising are negligible. The calories your body burns to build more muscle and maintain what you’ve got…that’s not negligible.

          You don’t need a lot of time or any fancy equipment, either. Fifteen minutes to half an hour four or five days a week will do it, and, aside from your own body, you don’t need anything other than maybe a chair or a towel or a table.

          See for more….



          1. Hey, that looks like a neat site, Ben, thanks! I do like walking, golfing, tennis, gardening, hiking and using the exercise equipment we have at home… I can read and exercise at the same time! I like being active, doing just about anything, even the dreaded vacuuming (cough). Right now, snow shoveling is de rigueur, not something I enjoy per se.

            1. You’re welcome.

              The great thing about Mark’s stuff…is that you don’t need all that exercise equipment, and you’ll get much better exercise without it. Most equipment works just one muscle group at a time in unnatural movements; bodyweight exercises work multiple muscle groups in natural movements that proportionally work everything just right. And you’ll naturally adjust the resistance to exactly the right amount, as well.



  7. Phonetically, and idiomatically, n’yeh sooey hooey’v t’chai.

    But since the crow flies off with it at the end, it seems like a lid is not the right tool to eat dinner from in that location.

  8. I once saw a bright blue ball (golf ball-sized) rolling down my neighbor’s driveway. There was no one around, and no wind. Then I saw the crow chasing it!

  9. Just saw Nature PBS on parrots…I will never own a bird. They are smarter and socially more evolved than some humans. Crows have got to be close.

    1. I feel bad for birds like parrots if they don’t end up with the right owners as they end up suffering from boredom and sometimes develop mental problems where they pull out all their feathers etc. There are bird rescue places that look after parrots.

      They seem to require a lot of socialization, more than your typical domestic pet so having a job & not being home with your parrot can sometimes be too lonely for the parrot.

      1. They live forever too. That’s not necessarily a plus either, depending. My brother’s might outlive him, but it’s said, as he’s alone with no other parrot for company. They can get a little unbalanced or provoked sometimes and will suddenly attack their human keepers.

  10. These crows clearly have too much time on their hands. Surely they should be out working?! 😉

    Play in animals with bigger brains is not really ‘play’ is it? It is really learning & exploring the environment & that then becomes play when it no longer has purpose. It is like building a road to get to some resource like timber, then using it to go for a walk with the d#g.

      1. So it seems – my hypothesis is that the crow is mainly interested in that waggly tail of the tabby (the black cat keeps her tail comparatively still). I’ve seen other clips where crows (hooded ones, too) try to catch wagging cat tails …

            1. Ahh thanks. I didn’t think they had the same colouring as magpies but hadn’t heard of the aptly named “hooded crow”.

        1. I recall reading somewhere, maybe in The Mind of the Raven by Bernard Heinrich, that some corvids like to mess with the tails of possible predators so they can learn to time their reactions.

          1. That would certainly explain it … nice tactics, too!

            The Hooded Crow, by the way, is called “Nebelkrähe” in German, meaning “Fog Crow”. Probably because it looks like a “regular” crow in the fog … used to be a common winter guest all over Europe, but is found now mainly in northern and eastern Europe. It seems to have reduced the length of its migration distance … global warming?

  11. Not obvious play and the fact that crows often play is not a sufficient argument.
    I agree with your hypothesis (of trying to nom the mayonnaise out of the lid) for this particular video, because when I saw this video the first time several months ago, I noticed the same points against play hypothesis. Food need are upon play need and must be considered as first line hypothesis. Thus hypothesis of a play must be a conclusion by elimination, even if probably but rarely, an individual could mix play and food research.

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