Saturday, July 15, 2017

Plan Like a Raven

Many will know of my fascination with crows, ravens, and other members of the Corvidae family. This group of birds also includes the jays, magpies, and whisky jacks (grey jays). I have previously described (blog posts here and here and my favourite here) the great intelligence of these birds (specifically the Corvus moneduloides or New Caledonian crow) and so it comes as no surprise that a recent study[1] links one member of this family to the ability to plan for the future. A group of common ravens (Corvus corax), studied at the Lund University of Sweden, was found to be at least as good as small children and apes at “flexible planning.”[2]

A series of behavioural experiments revealed that the ravens were capable of planning for the future beyond common instincts they would have experienced in the wild. Some of the behaviours exhibited included the ability to select a rock that was useless to them then but proved to be useful in getting a food treat later. They could also delay gratification by choosing a useful rock, over an average treat, which would later allow them to retrieve a spectacular treat. There were further ways in which useful tools were purposely set aside for later use.

Seeing this intelligence in these birds causes some to marvel at the mystery of the universe and see a natural progression of intelligence in evolutionary systems. For others, it results in praise for the Creator’s perfect intelligence that bestowed upon these beasts a portion of intellectual prowess. For some of us, it does both.

[1] C. Kabadayi and M. Osvath. Ravens parallel great apes in flexible planning for tool-use and barteringScience. July 14, 2017. Vol. 357, p. 202. doi:10.1126/science.aam8138

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