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Friend or Foe? Ravens Remember and Recognize

Friend or Foe? Ravens Remember and Recognize

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.

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Photo Credit: Nyo

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12:46PM PST on Nov 8, 2014

Thank you ! Good idea - will buy the book from E E Poe.

7:53AM PDT on Aug 31, 2012


12:45AM PDT on Aug 31, 2012

does this mean that ravens don't share the similar characteristics to the crows?

5:56PM PDT on May 10, 2012

They are the smartest birds! ...and smashingly beautiful too!

4:40AM PDT on May 10, 2012

interesting article, thanks for sharing :)

6:53AM PDT on May 4, 2012


6:24PM PDT on May 3, 2012

We're fortunate to have ravens and crows where we live. The ravens are much more timid than the crows and much larger, which becomes apparent when the two species are together. We've managed to friend the crows-they look from a nearby tree each morning and peer into my kitchen window until I come out and toss them breakfast. The ravens, have a richer, throatier caw than the crows and we hear them much more often than see them as they stay off in the distance.

5:07PM PDT on May 3, 2012

Just remember "Quote the Raven Nevermore" :-0

2:18PM PDT on May 3, 2012

Ravens are beautiful intelligent creatures & have suffered predjudice following silly Human superstitions. Cats were feared & loathed in the past too. I think that all animals need to beware of US!!!

9:49AM PDT on May 3, 2012

i think having a pet raven/crow would be neat or just sort having a wild one who that has become friendly to you.

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