Ravens as Birdbrains?
Mary Wakefield, commissioning editor of The Spectator, asks, "Just how clever are ravens?" (The Spectator, October 22, 2016), and as regular readers know, I am interested in animal intelligence, so let's see what Ms. Wakefield has discovered:
Until recently, neuroscientists had little time for birds. It was assumed that brain size (relative to body size) was the most significant factor in animal intelligence. What good could any bird brain be? Plus birds have no neo-cortex, which in mammals is vital for intelligence. A seven-year study at Duke University, North Carolina, tested 36 species for their ability to inhibit impulses (a significant part of being clever) and the results were presented, in 2014, as a league table of animal IQ: great apes top, dogs honourably middling, birds at the bottom.Growing up in the Ozarks, I always knew that crows were smart. I don't recall seeing any ravens in those hills, though, but I sure wish I had . . .
But those scientists at Duke had not considered crow-kind. This year, researchers from Lund University in Sweden repeated the Duke experiment with corvids (jackdaws, crows and ravens) and found, to their shock, that these birds were the equal of apes. Ravens, Corvus corax, the smartest of all crows, scored 100 per cent on the Duke test. This was not an anomaly. All around the world scientists are discovering that ravens are alarmingly smart. They will make and use tools to get food; they can grasp abstract concepts and use imagination. Ravens will not only stash food in hidey holes to eat later, but, if they think another bird is watching, they'll fake-hide their food to fox the competition. This isn't pre-programmed behaviour - this is considered strategy.