Tuesday, July 18, 2017


 My friends the ravens and crows  have been back in the news of late-  new research, new people interested in their antics, new books, etc.  Just this past week  The Week       had a two  page article  ("What a Crow Knows") about the on-going  research at UW (Univ. of Washington in Seattle) and always, Dr. John Marzluff (see Blogs Jan. 2013,  May & Aug. 2012), who once helped my 4H kids with their crow project, is featured.

Seems scientists in other parts of the world have taken an interest in the intelligence of these creatures, further demonstrating that they (not the scientists) are known for their
exceptional intelligence and ability to co-operate.

In 2015 scientists from the University of Vienna discovered that the birds will punish those who don't play fair. It is the first time this type of behavior, akin to social policing, has been observed outside humans and other primates.

John Marzluff & friend

In the experiment, captive ravens paired up to simultaneously pull the two ends of one rope to slide a platform with two pieces of cheese into reach.
If, however, only one individual would pull, the rope would slip through the loops on the platform and the birds were left with the rope and without cheese.
Without any training the ravens spontaneously solved the task and co-operated successfully.

However, it turned out that the birds didn't all get on very well, and that they chose to work together with friends rather than with enemies. When one of the birds cheated and took not only its own reward, but also the reward of its companion, an interesting scenario arose. These cheats were far more likely to steal a reward again, and their victims were only too aware of this.

Once the raven who had missed out completed the task, they became reluctant to take part in the experiment, at least with the same individual.
This in turn deprived the cheat of the treat, providing a form of punishment. 

How ravens achieve their high levels of intelligence is still somewhat of a mystery. It is generally believed that larger brains make animals smarter, but these birds do not read the books!. 

In a series of cognitive tests carried out at Lund University in Sweden last year, ravens performed just as well as chimps, despite having significantly smaller brains. 

The team tested the intelligence of the birds using what's known as a 'cylinder task' which measures the animals' level of self-control, said to be a key indicator of intelligence levels.

A total of five adult ravens, 10 adult New Caledonian crows and 10 adult jackdaws took part in the study.

The results of the tests were then compared the results of a similar experiment carried out with chimps, and animal brain sizes were taken and listed. Overall, ravens were the most successful and deemed the most intelligent with a score of 100 per cent - the same result as chimps. 

We  all know the expression “bird-brain” taken to mean an annoyingly stupid and shallow person.  Well, that is certainly a misnomer, and maybe its not so bad to have one!

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