A German study has given new meaning to the term “bird brain” by demonstrating that ravens are as smart as some of our closest ancestors.
Scientists at Germany’s Osnabrueck University and the Max Planck Institute for Ornithology compared the physical and social cognitive skills of ravens with those of chimpanzees and orangutans.
The researchers found that common ravens had already developed full-blown cognitive skills at the age of four months – abilities similar to those of adult apes when it came to completing various tasks.
The study has been published in the journal Scientific Reports, according to a statement released on Thursday.
The findings were based on an experimental test originally developed for primates and adapted to be used on the birds.
The tests involved hiding treats beneath an upturned cup and then changing its position in relation to other cups, to see if the raven could keep track of the food.
The feathered creature then used its beak to point to the correct cup.
“By four months of age, baby ravens are relatively independent and begin to take an interest in non-breeding associations,” study leader Simone Pika of Osnabrueck University said.
Eight ravens aged four, eight, 12 and 16 months were assessed in the study using a variety of tasks to test their abilities in spacial memory and communication, among other faculties.
The birds mastered tests on understanding quantities, cause-and-effect chains, social learning and communication just as well as chimpanzees or orangutans, the scientists found.
The researchers’ next goal is to develop tests that identify skills specific to the bird species.