D: I like that ring, Yaël. Is it new?
Y: It is! And I’m lucky it’s still on my finger. There were a lot of crows in the parking lot this morning as I walked to work, and I was worried one of them would try to steal it from me.
D: You have nothing to worry about. It turns out that crows don’t really like to take shiny objects. It’s just an old belief that crows, and their cousin the magpie, steal trinkets and hoard them in their nests.
Y: Really? But I could have sworn I’d heard stories of birds taking watches or car keys.
D: And some birds do! In one study done at the University of Exeter, though, researchers put food and various odds-and-ends in front of pairs of magpies. If the birds had liked shiny things, those objects—blue and silver rings and screws, and aluminum foil— would have been pretty attractive. Instead, the magpies mostly ignored everything but the food, and in fact, the objects seemed to make them nervous. A couple of magpies touched the rings once they’d finished eating, but immediately lost interest in them.
Y: That sounds like they just wanted to know if the rings were something else to eat.
D: Exactly. So instead of liking shiny trinkets, magpies and crows don’t really care. Or they may even actively fear unexpected objects in their environment.
Y: Then how did these birds get this thieving reputation?
D: Likely just observational bias. People saw crows and magpies when they did happen to pick up shiny baubles, but just didn’t notice when they picked up more mundane things. So don’t worry about your new ring—there’s nothing here to ruffle your feathers.