Crows find a novel use for coat hangers

May 13, 2014 • 9:41 am

We should all know by now that corvids (ravens, crows, etc.) are amazingly smart animals. But this is a new one on me. Amusing Planet gives a brief report and some nice photos of how crows in Tokyo make their nests using anthropogenic material. Indented prose is from the article:

Food isn’t the only motivation factor that drive crows to adaptability. Crows also demonstrate intelligence when building nests, using whatever materials that are available to construct them. A typical nest is composed of interlocking twigs, often recycled from the old nest, and pieces of wires of various lengths and thickness, gathered from the surrounding, to strengthen the nest structure. Tokyo residents have observed that crows in the city have learned to use coat hangers instead.

Photo from Goetz Kluge:


In such a large city, there are few trees, so the natural materials that crows need to make their nests are scarce. As a result, the crows will often steal hangers from the people who live in apartments nearby, and carefully assemble them into intricate nests. The completed nests almost look like works of art.

Photo by Badaunt:


Nests built from hangers were also discovered in other Japanese cities. In Fukuoka City, the Jungle Crow would often make nests atop power lines during the breeding season that could cause large blackouts due to short circuiting. The Kyushu Electric power company actually has “crow patrols” that search out and destroy hanger nests on their power grid.

Photo by Brian G. Kennedy:


I seem to recall that my friend Amy, our erstwhile Japanese Correspondent who has vanished, told me that in Yokohama that crows would rip open garbage bags to steal the hangers.

 h/t: Todd

40 thoughts on “Crows find a novel use for coat hangers

  1. Coat hangers and cable consoles, obviously. Typical young nesting behavior, especially in city populations.

  2. I bet it won’t be long before some crow figures out how to use leverage to unwind the twist at the top, and then to shape the hangers into even more useful forms….


  3. This is certainly intriguing behaviour. It suggests crows are pretty flexible urban animals. I wonder if there are regional cultural differences, similar to how different chimpanzee groups have different learned methods of tool use for collecting food. For instance, perhaps different crows favour different hanger types, or even different frame-like objects, in different areas?

  4. Noted that they also seem to have the sense not to use those irritating ones with the cardboard tubes. Or else they’re not available in Japan.

  5. When the crow patrols started destroying nests, the crows responded by building dummy nests. Not only do they serve as decoys for actual nests and add to the electric company’s problems, they give the crows a place to move into immediately if a real nest is destroyed. (Link.) Don’t underestimate the corvids!

  6. I was reading an article about House Wrens a while back that mentioned finding a nest composed entirely of short pieces of badly-rusted wire; the spool had apparently fallen apart into a pile of identical-length pieces, as wire will often do, and was perceived by the wrens as a handy substitute for the small twigs they normally use.

  7. Loved the pictures.

    I often think of Amy, Yokohamamama. I don’t think I’ve seen anything from her since a short time after the tsunami. There’s been no activity on her blog. I do hope she and her family are doing well.
    Let us know Amy, if you are out there.

  8. “In Fukuoka City, the Jungle Crow would often make nests atop power lines during the breeding season that could cause large blackouts due to short circuiting.”

    Maybe if the Japanese were to switch to using only plastic (non-conductive) coat hangers…

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