Best known for her 55 year old research study, Jane Goodall taught us that chimpanzees are among the most intelligent animals, capable of learning language, making tools, even expressing altruism. Since we share 96% of the same DNA, few of us are surprised by this discovery. Well, recent studies reveal that ravens, members of the corvid family ( that includes crows and jackdaws) are as clever as chimps!
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In 2014 at Duke University, experiments with primates were conducted that involved strategic choices to obtain food efficiently. Scientists associated the success of this type of problem solving with brain size. However, research in the UK and Germany that included ravens, jackdaws and New Caledonian crows demonstrated that nearly 100% were capable of identical problem solving.
Remarkably, these experiments indicate that the intelligence of ravens is a result of neuronal density and brain structure, not size. Biologists know that the corvid family of birds are among the smartest of all birds. Crows and ravens will drop nuts from high wires above vehicles, and clams onto rocks, to get them opened. Like human children, they can solve problems by insight and communicate in meaningful ways. Distinct “caws” represent alerts for humans, dogs, their own neighbors and each other.
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And with astounding recall, one North American crow, “Clark’s nutcracker”, collects 30,000 seeds in November, distributes them over a 200 mile area, and manages to retrieve 90% of them over the following 8 months, even when they’re buried under feet of snow!
The use of tools by chimps has long been a measure of intelligence. Similar to Paleolithic man, New Caledonian crows create, use and carry tools from one place to another. Fashioned by their beaks and claws, these include hooks made from twigs, and barbed rakes and combs.
And like us, corvids are highly social, smart animals. Ravens even apply their intelligence for the good of the flock. They contact others to alert them to a food carcass. Hmm, not so far from a run to the coffee house…. you coming?