A meticulous study recently published by scientists in Leipzig, Germany, concludes that the intelligence of ravens rivals that of the great apes.
Other studies have come to similar conclusions, but this one was especially exhaustive, employing a complex combination of tests designed to measure various aspects of intelligence.
They found, among other things, that four month old ravens have already developed the impressive skill and knowledge of adults, making them incredibly quick learners.
It’s an interesting study in many respects — another step away from older science that assessed all species using, what we are now beginning to see, are very limited human criteria. It was long thought that birds, because of the small size of their brains relative to those of primates, couldn’t possibly be that smart.
Birds and mammals have been travelling down divergent evolutionary paths for lo these hundreds of millions of years. It’s now becoming evident that the mammal/bird development routes may well have ultimately led them to comparable destinations, intelligence-wise. While bird brains are indeed much smaller that our primate ones, it turns out that the many kinds of intelligence are far too complicated to be simply measured in weight and volume.
The German study is also interesting in that it questions the limitation of how valid our human assessment of other species’ intelligence can really be. We inevitably filter the results of our experiments through our particular type of intelligence. The ravens perform the tasks set by the human scientists, but how would humans perform in a test set for us by ravens?
Indeed, it has often occurred to me that I’m proving to be a rather disappointing subject for the ongoing experiment being conducted by our local corvids.
I often see myself reflected in crows and ravens. Not just literally …
… but also in the way I tend to see my own feelings and thoughts reflected back at me. Because I’m not bound by scientific rigour, and because I spend so much thinking about them and watching them, I often lapse into formulating little human-corvid parallels.
Corvids remind me of humans in so many ways — from how we both look sad on wet days to how we care for those we love.
It brings me joy to see these familiar things reflected back at me — but at the same time I realize I really have no idea of what they’re truly thinking and feeling.
They are a deep mystery and that is, in itself, marvellous.
Read about the research mentioned at the beginning of this post in Scientific American or read the full report here.
You can also see, hear and read about more raven amazements in some of my earlier blog posts.
- The time they played with snowballs in Raven Games
- Learning to Speak Raven
- Raven Tutor
- Special Days
- Ghost Raven
- Edgar Allen Poe and the Raven Mix-up
- Vancouver’s Urban Ravens
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8 thoughts on “Raven Reasoning”
Well stated, June. It has always bothered me that we gauge animals’ intelligence by human standards. Who are we to say who’s intelligent and who isn’t? It reminds me of that quote by Henry Beston, which you may know:
“We need another and a wiser and perhaps a more mystical concept of animals. Remote from universal nature and living by complicated artifice, man in civilization surveys the creature through the glass of his knowledge and sees thereby a feather magnified and the whole image in distortion. We patronize them for their incompleteness, for their tragic fate for having taken form so far below ourselves. And therein do we err. For the animal shall not be measured by man. In a world older and more complete than ours, they move finished and complete, gifted with the extension of the senses we have lost or never attained, living by voices we shall never hear. They are not brethren, they are not underlings: they are other nations, caught with ourselves in the net of life and time, fellow prisoners of the splendour and travail of the earth.”
My son can vouch for the intelligence of ravens, having had his lunch stolen by one while working as a lift operator at Seymour. Adding insult to injury, the bird even unwrapped the Lindt chocolate balls and left the wrappers behind!
I also lost my lunch to ravens but up Cypress mountain at the Bowen lookout. Two of them worked in tandem as I sat beside my lunch, one walked up to me to distract me while the other came around from behind and stole my lunch. Before I realized what was happening I saw my lunch flying away Tupperware container and all!
Thank you so much for the uplifting and inspirational videos, photos, and your ever so entertaining commentary June! Wishing you and yours a very Merry Christmas and a happy and healthy 2021!
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I really like this woman and I purchased my crow calendar from her.
Sent from my iPad
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