Exploiting the skills of others enables individuals to reduce the risks and costs of resource innovation. Social corvids are known to possess sophisticated social and physical cognitive abilities. However, their capacity for imitative learning and its inter-individual transmission pattern remains mostly unexamined. Here we demonstrate the large-billed crows' ability to learn problem-solving techniques by observation and the dominance-dependent pattern in which this technique is transmitted. Crows were allowed to observe one of two box-opening behaviours performed by a dominant or subordinate demonstrator and then tested regarding action and technique. The observers successfully opened the box on their first attempts by using non-matching actions but matching techniques to those observed, suggesting emulation. In the subsequent test sessions, dominant observers (i.e. those dominant to the bird acting as demonstrator) consistently used the learned technique, whereas subordinates (i.e. those subordinate to the bird acting as demonstrator) learned alternative techniques by explorative trial and error. Our findings demonstrate crows' capacity to learn by observing behaviours and the effect of dominance on transmission patterns of behavioural skills.
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