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5 Reasons Ravens Are Super Smart Birds

Updated on July 30, 2015

Bird Brains?

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; 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.

Self Awareness

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.

Magpie Vanity?

Face Recognition

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!

Complex language

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:

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    • Mrs. Menagerie profile image
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      Mrs. Menagerie 5 years ago from The Zoo

      Thank you, thank you Dubuquedogtrainer!

    • Dubuquedogtrainer profile image

      Dubuquedogtrainer 5 years ago from Dubuque, Iowa

      Well written and very interesting - voted up. I really liked the videos!

    • Mrs. Menagerie profile image
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      Mrs. Menagerie 5 years ago from The Zoo

      Thank you so much Cheekygirl!

    • Cheeky Girl profile image

      Cassandra Mantis 5 years ago from UK and Nerujenia

      What a great Hub! These birds are smart! Facial recognition means they also have great memories! Very educational Hub!

    • Mrs. Menagerie profile image
      Author

      Mrs. Menagerie 5 years ago from The Zoo

      Hi Scribenet! I love that "roman nose" look, beautiful birds!

    • Scribenet profile image

      Scribenet 5 years ago from Ontario, Canada

      Ravens are such interesting birds and so unusual looking close up with their huge beaks. I always enjoy learning more about them since I have read many amusing stories about them over the years. I didn`t know they could recognize themselves in a mirror...lol

    • Mrs. Menagerie profile image
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      Mrs. Menagerie 5 years ago from The Zoo

      I love them too ata1515!

      Hi Frogyfish and thank you!

    • frogyfish profile image

      frogyfish 5 years ago from Central United States of America

      Enjoyable hub, and I vote with you about the smart birds!

      However, I did think they only 'caw-cawed' or 'ackked', so learned something today. Thanks for sharing!

    • ata1515 profile image

      ata1515 5 years ago from Buffalo, New York.

      I love crows, but I never knew they were so smart. Thanks for the Hub, voted up and shared!

    • Mrs. Menagerie profile image
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      Mrs. Menagerie 5 years ago from The Zoo

      Hey Bard,

      Great to hear from you and thank you for the kind comments!

    • Bard of Ely profile image

      Steve Andrews 5 years ago from Lisbon, Portugal

      They live in the mountains here on Tenerife. I love all types of crow! I am voting up for this awesome hub that has shown me what a video hub is like too!

    • Mrs. Menagerie profile image
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      Mrs. Menagerie 5 years ago from The Zoo

      Wow...thanks Peggy!

    • Peggy W profile image

      Peggy Woods 5 years ago from Houston, Texas

      What a fascinating hub! I think that the video you inserted at the top adds to the overall enjoyment of this hub about ravens. Up and interesting votes!

    • Mrs. Menagerie profile image
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      Mrs. Menagerie 5 years ago from The Zoo

      Thanks Teylina, Susan and Vincent!

    • Mrs. Menagerie profile image
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      Mrs. Menagerie 5 years ago from The Zoo

      Thank you Mary. I'll check out the stop start thing...

    • profile image

      Vincent Moore 5 years ago

      Very fascinating hub, I knew Raven's were very intelligent birds. They make great company as subjects for poets as in the case of The Raven by Poe. They inspire us poets to scribe of and with them by our side.

      They have a soul that reflects in a poets soul to scribe of them often. They have always been companions throughout time. Nicely written, I enjoyed the videos. I have a grave respect for the raven.

    • Just Ask Susan profile image

      Susan Zutautas 5 years ago from Ontario, Canada

      Very interesting hub. I never knew how intelligent ravens where before. Enjoyed meeting Dave and I hope he or she has a full recovery.

    • Teylina profile image

      Teylina 5 years ago

      I really appreciate your research to do this hub. Shaddie said it best-- "Cool!" Having seen some almost unbelievable things birds accomplished while watching them, I'd believe anything about their brains! Cool!

    • mary615 profile image

      Mary Hyatt 5 years ago from Florida

      I like your video; however, it would stop and start again numerous times. That could be my computer now your video. I think you are fantastic to imbed this video into your Hub. I hope I'll be able to do the same. Great Hub. I voted it UP, etc.

    • Shaddie profile image

      Shaddie 5 years ago from Washington state

      Cool!

    • Mrs. Menagerie profile image
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      Mrs. Menagerie 5 years ago from The Zoo

      Thanks indiesweb!

      Me too latitia!

      Hi Angie, write it anyway! Don't you love when Gerti Looks in the mirror again to see if it is still there...hehe.

    • Angie Jardine profile image

      Angie Jardine 5 years ago from Cornwall, land of the eternally youthful mind ...

      Aw, Mrs M, you've beaten me to it! I have had 'The intelligence of the Corvid family' on my 'to write' list for ages now. She who hesitates etc ...

      And what a good job you've done of it too. Great hub about a group of birds for whom I have the greatest admiration.

      Poor Gerti, she really is getting upset!

      I have seen rooks land on my bird table and pull up the string and hold it under a foot to obtain a fat ball I had hung out for small birds. They simply did it without appearing to have to think it through.

      If ever there is a commotion outside our house it is usually a crow or two mobbing a buzzard. They are utterly fearless ...

      They really are the most fascinating birds.

    • LetitiaFT profile image

      LetitiaFT 5 years ago from Paris via California

      Fascinating info and videos. I've been meaning to read Heinrich's "Mind of the Raven" for years. Guess I'll have to sit down and do it!

    • indieswebs profile image

      indieswebs 5 years ago from Bhavnagar, India

      I read a article long time on a magazine called Safari about Ravens creating tools for their daily living and as far as i remember they also keep these tools to use it afterwards.

      Thanks for the another great stuffs they do and Videos.

    • Mrs. Menagerie profile image
      Author

      Mrs. Menagerie 5 years ago from The Zoo

      Hey Tom and thank you!

    • kashmir56 profile image

      Thomas Silvia 5 years ago from Massachusetts

      Hi Mrs. Menagerie, WOW this is a very interesting hub full of great information about the Raven,some of it i did no know . Great job !

      Vote up and more !!!

    • Mrs. Menagerie profile image
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      Mrs. Menagerie 5 years ago from The Zoo

      Thanks Jkenny, Kris and avian novice!

    • aviannovice profile image

      Deb Hirt 5 years ago from Stillwater, OK

      Ravens have fed me and entertained me, as have crows, jays, and starlings, which can also talk. I think I have some hubs that will be of interest to you.

    • Kris Heeter profile image

      Kris Heeter 5 years ago from Indiana

      Very interesting! I remember as child, we sort of had a "pet" crow. It was wild but it always came to visit and eventually felt comfortable landing on my father's arm. I had no idea they had that many different vocalization!

    • JKenny profile image

      James Kenny 5 years ago from Birmingham, England

      Great hub! I remember reading about the ability of corvids to recognise and remember faces. I always tell people never to antagonise a crow or magpie, because you just never know. Voted up etc.