Ravens are one of the most social, intelligent and clever birds on Earth. Similar in appearance to the crow but significantly larger, the raven has historically been both feared and revered by many cultures around the world. Edgar Allen Poe famously wrote about the bird in this poem “The Raven,” and ravens have maintained a mysterious reputation across centuries as witnessed in common folklore. Still, how much do we know about these creatures in lieu of their iconic place in a spooky fable?
Recent studies have shown that ravens are remarkably intelligent — so much so in fact that they can recall friends or foes for years after an encounter. Markus Boeckle and Thomas Bugnyar from the University of Vienna found that ravens, are on par mentally with dolphins and great apes. Ravens, much like humans, memorize and categorize relationship bonds and affiliations with other animals.
They even have different calls based on association. For example, Boeckle and Bugnyar observed that strangers and foes received a harsh, unwelcoming call, whereas companions received a more welcoming greeting.
Clearly other animals have the ability to recall information, but what’s particularly noteworthy about ravens is the fact that they recall cues for such extended periods of time and apply that knowledge to their behavior — for at least three years, but likely longer. In addition, the raven’s ability to conduct logic games is also an impressive display of their intellect and recall ability. According to Scientific American, “Ravens have the ability to test actions in their minds [and] that capacity is probably lacking, or present only to a limited extent, in most animals.”
Given all their remarkable traits, it’s curious more people aren’t in awe of ravens. On the contrary, most people tend to dislike them, or even loathe them. Perhaps it’s psychological, or perhaps as a society we’ve grown apprehensive of a bird that not only scavenges, but is smart like us. Whatever the reason, ravens deserve at least more awareness for their remarkable traits, or possibly a bit less bad press.
Photo Credit: Nyo