5 Reasons Ravens Are Super Smart Birds
Ravens, members of the clever Corvid family, have the largest brain in relation to body size of any bird. They are excellent problem solvers, can create and use tools and have superb memories. Scientists consider an animal's ability to learn or problem solve as the best indicators of overall intelligence and ravens score up there with primates, dolphins, and elephants in tests intended to measure animal smarts. Here are some examples of tests and observations which have lead us humans to believe that ravens are the smartest of all birds.
Multi-Step Problem Solving
A few years back, scientists Bernd Heinrich and Thomas Bugnyar devised this experiment for testing Corvid cleverness: a piece of meat was hung on a string from a perch. The bird's only method to attain the meat was to pull the string up, secure it with one foot, then pull again; the bird had to repeat this many times before the meat was within reach.
Some adult ravens were able to complete the task in about 30 seconds, and on their first try. Because this is not a situation that a bird would likely encounter in the wild, it was concluded that the birds were using logic to solve the puzzle.
One study by Helmut Prior, called the "mirror mark test," has been used to determine if certain species recognize their reflection as themselves. Researchers simply placed a yellow or red marker on the animal, in a place that could only be seen in a mirror. If the animal looks at its reflection, then attempts to remove the marker, obviously they understand they are looking at their own reflection.
Until this test was done with Corvids, the only species to have passed the test were humans (over the age of 18 months), apes, dolphins and elephants. Even our intelligent dogs and cats do not understand this one. Needless to say, many of the Corvids passed with flying colors.
In addition to recognizing their own reflection, ravens recognize and remember individual human faces. There have been many reports of ravens, crows or magpies that heckle certain individuals after that person has aggravated the bird(s) in some way. Take for example, the janitor that would shoosh the ravens away from the garbage, only to be pursued by squawking birds when going to his car days later, and in different clothing.
Or how about the Seattle college researchers who performed the following experiment to find out just exactly what these birds remember.
Seven crows were captured and banded by researchers wearing specific masks. The birds were then released onto the college campus. Whenever the researchers walked around campus in the masks, they were trailed by screeching crows in leg bands. If they wore different masks or no masks, the birds did not react.
Within a few days, there came another interesting development. Many non-banded crows were reacting to the masked men, and again, only the right masks. How did the other crows know which faces were the guilty ones? Were the birds capable of communicating their experience, as well as a clear description of the kidnappers, to one another?
Licenses and Laws
It is illegal in the U.S. (and many other countries,) to keep a wild bird in your possession without a permit...even if you are trying to help it. If you find an injured bird, contact a wild bird rehabilitator right away. For more info on this, click here:
Tool Building and Use
In a 2004 study by Hunt and Gray, Corvids were given a log which was full of food, but had holes too small for their beaks. The birds were also given bits of wire, which they easily crafted into hooks to gain access to the food.
I personally watched one raven attempt to reach swallow eggs that were far inside a roof drain. After assessing the distance required to reach the nest, the raven flew off and soon returned with the perfect stick. Skillfully, he flicked the eggs from the nest and into his reach, and then enjoyed a good breakfast. I did feel a bit bad for the swallows, but hey, everyone's gotta eat!
Scientists have identified over 33 different categories of vocalizations used by ravens. Each category encompasses many different calls which are separated according to sound and situation. Additionally, ravens communicate through gestures such as pointing, a behavior previously thought exclusive to primates.
Read more in Scientific American:
- Ravens Use 'Hand' Gestures to Communicate: Scientific American
The finding marks the first time researchers have seen gestures used in this way in the wild by animals other than primates