Cornish Jackdaw Project

Corvids (crows, rooks, jackdaws, jays and magpies) have brains of a similar size to chimpanzees (relative to the size of their bodies) and are famed for their sophisticated cognitive abilities. However, as almost all research has been conducted in captivity, we have little idea of the factors that favoured the evolution of corvid cognition in nature. Studies of corvids in their natural environment are essential to allow us to better understand cognitive evolution in the animal kingdom.

jackdaws 300x183 Cornish Jackdaw Project

The Cornish Jackdaw Project [Twitter], established in 2012, is a dedicated, long-term field site for the study of corvid behaviour and cognition, using jackdaws. Jackdaws are highly sociable, inquisitive corvids, making them ideal subjects for cognitive research. They also have the practical advantage over other corvid species that they will take to nest boxes, so they can be easily monitored and fitted with colour-rings to allow identification of individuals. The Cornish Jackdaw Project incorporates over 100 nest boxes across three different colonies, with more than 1800 individually recognisable, colour-ringed and PIT-tagged jackdaws. This unique system allows us to use experiments, observations and automated tracking of individuals to examine the cognitive challenges of life in jackdaw societies.

Between 2010 and 2014 we also worked at the Cambridge Jackdaw Project, a large field site based in Madingley, near Cambridge

This project is funded by:

BES Cornish Jackdaw Projectbbsrc Cornish Jackdaw Project



  • New paper with UWA collaborators in Nature: Cognitive performance is linked to group size and affects fitness in Australian magpies.

    New HFSP grant: Collective behaviour and information transmission in heterogeneous societies. Collaborating with Nick Ouellette (Stanford) and Richard Vaughan (SFU)


    Cooperative breeding doesn’t make you smarter. New paper open access in Journal of Zoology


    New TREE paper: The evolution of individual and cultural variation in social learning

    New paper on human cumulative culture in Scientific Reports


    Jackdaws recognise human faces! Gabrielle’s new paper is out. See coverage on ITV and BBC


    New ESRC grant! Cognitive Requirements of Cumulative Culture: Expts with Typically Developing and Autistic People. Collaborating with Christine Caldwell & Francesca Happé

    New paper with Oxford collaborators in Nature: cultural conformity in great tits

    Enormous congratulations to Gabrielle who passed her PhD viva. Well done Dr Davidson!

    Comparative cognition can help conservation: read Alison’s new paper in TREE












    Coverage of Gabrielle’s Biology Letters paper in the press and on YouTube












    Gabrielle has a new paper accepted in Biology Letters! 


    Gabrielle’s gaze sensitivity review is out!













    Took part in our survey about corvids in your garden? Click here to see preliminary results.

    New publications: 

    - Comparative cognition for conservationists. Trends Ecol. Evol.

    - Towards wild psychometrics. Behav. Ecol.

    - How and why are some animals so smart?. Behav. Ecol.

    - Jackdaw nestlings can discriminate between conspecific calls but do not beg specifically to their parents. Behav. Ecol.

    – Salient eyes deter conspecific nest intruders in wild jackdaws (Corvus monedula). Biol. Lett.

    – Gaze sensitivity: function and mechanisms from sensory and cognitive perspectives. Anim. Behav.

    – Heterogeneous structure in mixed-species corvid flocks in flight. Anim. Behav.

    Animal Minds: Phil. Trans. issueAnimal Minds e1345931827281 Cornish Jackdaw Project

    -Identification of learning mechanisms in a wild meerkat population. PloS ONE

    – Innovative problem-solving in wild meerkats. Anim. Behav.

    – How do banded mongooses locate and select anvils for cracking encased food items? Behav. Proc.

    – Teaching can teach us a lot. Anim. Behav.

    – Cooperation and punishment in nature. TREE