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The Intelligence of the Raven

Updated on November 10, 2012
Common Raven
Common Raven | Source

More Than Flexible...

Edgar Allen Poe’s raven was dishearteningly inflexible. That couldn’t be further from the truth, for this bird is just the opposite and would not have survived to this day had it not been so. They have nested in baseball stadiums, on pine trees, under overpasses, in abandoned buildings, on beech trees, in active railroad trestles, and the list goes on. But their preferences are for rocky shelves under cliff overhangs, the same as their enemies. Frequently owls and falcons will take over former raven nests, because raptors can’t build their own.

Primary Motivation

Don’t consider this unfair, as we are looking at another relationship here, just like we did with the wolf. Raptors also tend to provide kills from which to scavenge. Ravens will chase virtually any large bird that has food in its mouth, until they drop it, then the chase will terminate. Single ravens rarely will do this, but groups of ravens become much braver in company, plus there are more of them to feed. For many years in Maine, feeding stations were provided for Bald Eagles to keep them from venturing south and becoming contaminated by pesticides. Ravens also took advantage of these feeding stations, and did their best to get to know them. They pulled their tails and made themselves known, but that is the raven.

Raven calls have one primary motive, and that is to draw attention to themselves. When I was back in Downeast Maine, the raven population was rather large, and there were many young single birds in the area. I practiced my raven calls so that I was able to draw them to me. There is also a book out there that has a number of recorded bird calls, called, “Bird Songs: 250 North American Birds in Song," by Jon L. Dunn. There is a raven call in it, which they would also respond to, and needless to say, I only used it to get their attention once or twice. Making fools of these birds is not a good idea, as they will pay one back tenfold.


Wisdom and Play

Ravens also have been known to provide warnings. There was a woman that was warned about an impending cougar attack upon her. Ravens were even kept in The Tower of London to allegedly warn about impending danger with their vocalizations. But is that really what they mean to accomplish?

The Common Raven has also been known to be involved in play. They have been observed hanging from branches by their bills, hanging by their feet off rope, hanging by one foot with an object in their other foot, and many other types of play postures. I had a couple of pieces of PVC pipe in the yard, and the ravens would eventually peer into either end of the pipe, as well as hide things within it, like rocks. They would also remove and replace the rocks with pieces of wood. They will even slide down or roll down snow covered hills, and once I even observed one slide front forward, as though on a toboggan. The interesting thing about this, is that if one is involved in this activity, the others in the group are certain to follow suit, presumably so that they don’t miss out in the fun.

Research on Ravens

Many tests have been done for research on the intelligence of these birds over the years. Some of these tests have involved several steps in doing a project and the ravens have passed these tests with flying colors, which to me, proves beyond a shadow of a doubt that they have reasoning abilities. Bernd Heinrich, a biologist, had several ravens pull meat up on a string that was 2.5 feet long. The ravens were perched above the meat and had to grasp the string with the bill, pull the string up and over the perch, step on the string, press down hard enough with a foot, release the string with the bill, and repeat the process.


This test was perfect, as it could not be successfully completed randomly, genetic programming could not have coded this unnatural behavior, and the ravens were hand-reared in captivity.

It took a couple of tries before a bird would attempt this, and it was successfully done with some minor fumbling, and after the sixth repeat of this test with the same bird, it was apparent that this was not done by chance.

Five different groups of ravens and two crows were tested. All the ravens completed the task successfully, but not the crows.

The test showed insight, and the only main blunder that the birds did, was to try to fly off with the meat attached to the string. They soon figured out that before flying off, they had to drop the meat.

The more facts that one can glean from ravens, there are just as many contradictions. They will pull the tail feathers of eagles, yet they might fear a moth, a pile of dry cereal, or a moving twig. Territorial birds could spend an hour trying to chase eight or ten others away from their food. I have seen the same territorial birds later welcome other birds to share the same food. And so the story continues. Ravens will not necessarily do the same things at all times, just like us.


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    • aviannovice profile image

      Deb Hirt 3 years ago from Stillwater, OK

      Hey, Gmz. Not everyone is so lucky. Best wishes.

    • profile image

      Gmz 3 years ago

      I appreciate your kind and gnueroes advice a lot!. I have been trying it hardly and did not get those amazing results!. It is nice to see that you got my comment in a good way!God bless you!VA:F [1.9.10_1130]please wait VA:F [1.9.10_1130](from 0 votes)

    • aviannovice profile image

      Deb Hirt 4 years ago from Stillwater, OK

      You know, Leslee, I was really thinking about it. I just did a piece on global warming, that I have highlighted. If you want it, I could pull it off HubPages if you would like toi print it, or feel free to give me a topic and I'll run with it. Just let me know. I can do "on demand" just as easily as I can pick a topic.

    • Leslee Goodman profile image

      Leslee Goodman 4 years ago from Ojai, California

      Hi Deb, I'm definitely interested...particularly in the wolf connection. The upcoming issue of The MOON celebrates "The Call of the Wild." Please consider submitting something? Visit the website,, for submission guidelines. (Basically, just email me!

    • aviannovice profile image

      Deb Hirt 4 years ago from Stillwater, OK

      Leslee, I did read Craig Child's story. Ravens have a kinship and know exactly what death is, as well as its finality. Perhaps you'll be interested in more of my raven pieces. They have a strong kinship with wolves, due to symbiosis.

    • aviannovice profile image

      Deb Hirt 4 years ago from Stillwater, OK

      Hey, Leslee! Thanks, I shall read it now.

    • Leslee Goodman profile image

      Leslee Goodman 4 years ago from Ojai, California

      Another great piece on ravens by Craig Childs in The MOON magazine:

    • aviannovice profile image

      Deb Hirt 5 years ago from Stillwater, OK

      Thanks, moonlake. I adore ravens, and was acquainted with many of them in Maine. Friends used to tell me that passed by the house when I wzas gone, there were so many ravens in the yard, that nobody would ever dare to try to break in.

    • moonlake profile image

      moonlake 5 years ago from America

      Our son has very tall pine trees on his property. The ravens nest in them. He called one morning to tell us a nest had been torn out of the tree and the babies were on the ground could we come and get them. (eagles often tear up the nest).

      He was heading in for a doctor appointment. We could only find one raven alive but we picked him up. warmed him up and took him to the wild life center when I called the next day he was doing well. I love watching them, they're in our yard too, not as many as our son has. Voted up on your hub.

    • aviannovice profile image

      Deb Hirt 5 years ago from Stillwater, OK

      gamby, they are interesting birds, and oh, so bright. They used to guard the house for me when I was in Maine.

    • aviannovice profile image

      Deb Hirt 5 years ago from Stillwater, OK

      Mhatter, I will have to look into that tip. Thanks for the info.

    • gamby79 profile image

      gamby79 5 years ago

      Wish we had them here! They must be awesome to observe!

    • Mhatter99 profile image

      Martin Kloess 5 years ago from San Francisco

      I just heard on the radio (KGO) a man trained some wild crows to bring him spare change.

    • aviannovice profile image

      Deb Hirt 5 years ago from Stillwater, OK

      Thanks, Joyce. They are wonderful creatures, and there is so much more to tell.

    • writer20 profile image

      Joyce Haragsim 5 years ago from Southern Nevada

      Wonderful writing for these birds. If they could talk they would say they love you.

      Voted useful and interesting.


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