Avian Intelligence

Monday, April 23, 2007

Via Arts and Letters Daily is a fascinating article about an area of intense scientific study: the behavior of ravens.

Ravens ... have a long evolutionary process of espionage and counter-espionage to build on, in the course of which they became masters of deceit and problem-solving. They got better and better at guessing the intentions of others and concealing their own. "Ravens are cognitively equal to a two-year-old child," says Bugnyar.

The birds are highly sophisticated when it comes to assessing their adversary's degree of knowledge and considering it for the purpose of their deeds and misdeeds. They won't attribute much brainpower to a wolf, for example. "When ravens discover a wolf burying a piece of meat, they watch him openly, "Bugnyar reports. "And when he leaves, they just dig it up." But when it comes to their conspecifics, who are prepared for such tricks, they act demonstratively uninvolved, grooming their feathers and stilting about as if bored.
The birds apparently rival primates in some respects. Read the whole thing.

-- CAV


Anonymous said...

Hmmmmm. So do you suppose that the foundation for the birds' superior mental accomplishments is Crow Epistemology?

Sorry, but I couldn't resist.


Gus Van Horn said...

Actually, if I recall correctly, ravens are related to crows and they were found in the same kind of experiment to be able to count to small numbers below ten. In fact, I wouldn't terribly be surprised if these were the same experiments Ayn Rand was thinking about when she coined that term, given that raven counting experiments were going on even in the early 1940s.