For thousands of years cultures all across the world have told tales of raven’s intelligence. The clever trickster in many native tribes’ stories, a sacred animal to Apollo the God of prophecy, a bringer of wisdom to the Norse gods, even Game of Thrones shows a three eyed ravens during prophetic visions. It’s obvious people recognize these birds as pretty smart, and as it turns out, many scientific tests back this up. There are several characteristics that put ravens up there with the cleverest species, sometimes even out smarting great apes and human children!
Recognizing friend or foe
Ravens are social creatures, in many ways very similar to some humans! When ravens are old enough to leave their parents’ safe and cozy nest, the juveniles will join a crew and spend their time there. When a raven eventually finds a one true love, it will separate off and mate for life. They even hold funerals for their lost loved ones!
With all these social interactions, what is really interesting is ravens’ ability to recognize friend or foe. When interacting with other ravens, these birds will be friendly with birds they know and like, even if they haven’t seen each other for years. But you don’t want to get on their bad sides. Not only have they been known to act suspiciously towards ravens they don’t know and give the cold shoulder to birds that have wronged them, but they recognize human faces as well! If you cheat a raven out of its food, it will remember you and hold a grudge for months!
Tools and Toys
Using tools and playing games are sure signs of intelligence seen in only the most clever of animals such as monkeys, dolphins, and -you guessed it- ravens! In the wild, ravens are known to drop rocks on people threatening their nests, and to use sticks and other tools to get food. In one test, a majority of ravens figured out in only 30 seconds to pull down a string, anchor it, and keep pulling to reach a treat. But they’re not all work and no play! Ravens have been seen skiing down snow covered roofs and hillsides, making toys out of pinecones and golf balls, etc (a very rare animal behavior), and even playing “keep away” to taunt other animals just because it’s funny!
What really sets ravens apart is that they have proven to be able to plan for the future, something scientists thought for a long time only humans and our close animal relatives did. In one study, ravens were given a tool to get food. Not only did they figure out how to use this tool, but later when they were offered this tool or another less tasty snack, many would chose the tool to use later. They continued to chose tool over snack even when it would be a long time before they would get the food. This type of delayed gratification test has been presented to monkeys and human children, and the ravens out performed! Talk about self control!
On Catalina Island, we have tons of huge raven friends, and If you have ever left your backpack outside while at CIMI, you may have experienced just how clever these ravens can be when on the search for your tasty food. Now that you know how impressively intelligent these majestic birds are, don’t forget to hide your snacks!