Monday, April 23, 2007

Ravens: Masters of Deceit

Spiegel Online features well-written article about the intelligence of ravens; it's well-worth the read. It talks about the birds hanging on to the tails of boars to get pulled through the snow on their backs, playing dead next to a carcass to fool another raven into leaving the food alone, and other displays of intelligence. It also mentions a theory about how raven behavior might have driven the cooperative hunting seen among wolves. Very interesting. Though it's short on scientific findings, the shared anecdotes are entertaining. I also wish stories like these included references to the published science behind the story. I don't have time to go track it all down on my own!

Ravens look similar to crows but are much larger. You can easily see the difference in the photo above. Some people have raised crows, ravens, and starlings from birth to be pets. Mozart's starling became famous and possibly wrote one of his most famous pieces of music. Crows have been reputed to be able to learn to talk, but so have some dogs and cats whose owners swear they meow and moan things like "mama."

I've never met a talking crow but I did meet one once in the aviary here in town that vocalized every time Sleyed and I walked away and only when we walked away. It shut up when we reappeared. I think that qualifies as play. Crows are smart like ravens. Indeed, I've never heard of a dumb member of the corvid family. I've met the ravens of the Tower of London. They were aloof, but they meet a lot of people so it's got to be difficult to make an impression on them! Legend has it that if the ravens who live at the Tower of London ever leave, the monarchy of England will fall.

A new version of the Mind of the Raven, by Bernd Heinrich, will be published in June. I have the original on my shelf and recommend it to anyone who is interested in the minds of animals, particularly corvids.

Evidently some crows, magpies, jays, and ravens are kept captive in cages in the U.K. called "Larsen Traps" that use the captive corvid to attract another to keep the birds from interfering with "game birds" and song bird populations. The ACT website is interesting and highlights the hazards of human attemps to manage wildlife.


B said...

I heard they Ravens at the Tower have been brought indoors now to protect them from possible bird flu!

SquirrelGurl said...

I went to a Scales & Tales demo (its a Dept. of Natural Resources program to teach ppl about wildlife) and the guy had a Raven at the demo. He said the Raven knew how to talk and liked trying to bite the cat that hung around his cage so the bird learned how to say "Here kitty, kitty, kitty..." Pretty wild!