New study gives ravens something to crow about

Not such a birdbrain

In a series of tests, ravens showed signs of a general planning ability that previously had been documented only in people and great apes. However, monkeys have failed similar experiments.

Corvids - like ravens and crows - are some of the smartest birds around.

The ravens also showed they could barter for what they needed.

It's not like you could ask a raven to arrange your wedding: Ravens showed they could plan by setting aside a tool that they suspected would get them a tasty treat later. Their findings were published today in the journal Science.

One hour later, the ravens were presented with the tool, as well as several toy "distractors" that were too large to fit into the slot of the vending machine-like puzzle box.

They then tested whether the birds could pick the right tool from a series of "distracter" objects - such as a wheel, a ball, a metal pipe and a toy vehicle - then save it and use it later to open the box.

Ravens match great apes at planning Mathias Osvath  Lund University
Ravens match great apes at planning Mathias Osvath Lund University

Finally, ravens were presented with the correct tool to open a box along and an immediate reward, but were only allowed to choose one or the other.

A high success rate (78 percent) was also seen in similar experiments where ravens used a token - a blue plastic bottle cap - to later barter for a food reward. Then, a different experimenter offered them a tray with the token on it along with other distracter objects.

"The human brain stores memories of past events to guide decision-making about current and future events", wrote psychologists Markus Boeckle and Nicola Clayton of the University of Cambridge. The ravens demonstrated self-control on par with great apes by opting for the tool, which eventually earned them a better food reward than the immediate treat.

It's safe to say that ravens and mammals have not inherited planning skills through a common ancestor, says Kabadayi - they last shared an ancestor about 320 million years ago.

Regarding raven memory, prior research found that a "raven can remember a single encounter with a human for at least a month", so "they can remember information for a very long time", Osvath said. The skills likely evolved independently, through convergent evolution, he says.

More than 170 years after Edgar Allan Poe's fictional raven croaked, "Nevermore", scientists are reporting that real-life ravens think about the future. "They get frustrated because they can't open the box", Mathias Osvath, a cognitive zoologist at Lund University, Sweden, and author of the study told BuzzFeed News.

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