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Unique Bird Behavior – Ravens Use Beaks to “Show” Objects to Mates

RavenThe act of holding up or pointing to an object, in order to draw another’s attention, has been observed only among ourselves and Great Apes.  Known as deictic gesturing, this behavior is considered critical to the development of language, and a sign of great intelligence (you parents will likely recall the first time your toddler did something similar!).  Along with parrots, crows, and magpies, Common Ravens, Corvus corax, have proven themselves among the brightest of the world’s birds.  Recently, they have been observed to utilize deictic gestures, and are the only birds known to do so.

“Hey…look at this if you care about me”!

Researchers at the Max Planck Institute for Ornithology and the University of Vienna have reported that Ravens pick up objects such as stones, branches and moss and show them to other Ravens.  In most cases, the bird being solicited is the other’s mate.  Once his or her attention is drawn, the pair usually jointly manipulates the object for a time. 

Pair formation in Ravens is a long, complicated process, and mated birds are known to engage in complex tasks that require a high level of cooperation.  This, and their intelligence, was long ago recognized by people living within their range.  In the northern reaches of North American and Asia, Ravens featured prominently in mythology and folklore. Ornithologists believe that showing and jointly “handling” objects may be used to test the suitability or interest of a potential mate, and to strengthen the bond once the birds have paired up.

Parrots and Crows Ace Tests

Several other interesting studies concerning avian intelligence have been published recently.  Most have focused on Parrots and Corvids (Crows, Magpies, and Ravens).  Believed to be the most intelligent of all birds, the learning abilities of both groups have shocked researchers.  In some test situations, New Caledonian Crows have scored on par with Chimpanzees and other Great Apes.

The articles linked below describe some of what these brilliant avian test-takers have accomplished recently – Keas that learn and build upon problem solving skills and discard them when need be, Japanese Crows that take advantage of both traffic and traffic signals when feeding, African Gray Parrots that pick and choose human words to fit specific situations, and more…



Further Reading

Do Parrots Know what they are Saying? (Yes, at least some of the time!).

Kea Intelligence

Japan’s Amazing Carrion Crows

Birds can “Read” Human Gaze

Raven image referenced from wikipedia and originally posted by Franco Atirador
Chihuahuan Raven image referenced from wikipedia and originally posted by Aaron

About Frank Indiviglio

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I believe that I was born with an intense interest in animals, as neither I nor any of my family can recall a time when I was not fascinated by creatures large and small. One might imagine this to be an unfortunate set of circumstances for a person born and raised in the Bronx, but, in actuality, quite the opposite was true. Most importantly, my family encouraged both my interest and the extensive menagerie that sprung from it. My mother and grandmother somehow found ways to cope with the skunks, flying squirrels, octopus, caimans and countless other odd creatures that routinely arrived un-announced at our front door. Assisting in hand-feeding hatchling praying mantises and in eradicating hoards of mosquitoes (I once thought I had discovered “fresh-water brine shrimp” and stocked my tanks with thousands of mosquito larvae!) became second nature to them. My mother went on to become a serious naturalist, and has helped thousands learn about wildlife in her 16 years as a volunteer at the Bronx Zoo. My grandfather actively conspired in my zoo-buildings efforts, regularly appearing with chipmunks, boa constrictors, turtles rescued from the Fulton Fish Market and, especially, unusual marine creatures. It was his passion for seahorses that led me to write a book about them years later. Thank you very much, for a complete biography of my experience click here.
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