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EVERMORE: Young Ravens Rival Adult Chimps and Young Children in General Intelligence

Across a whole spectrum of cognitive skills, their intelligence is really quite amazing. Ravens would equal to children who are about 2.5 years old for most of the physical cognition tests.

RACHEL NEWER: Scientists and casual observers alike have known for years that ravens and their corvid relatives are extremely smart. But most studies use single experiments that provide a limited view of their overall intelligence. “Quite often, in single tasks, you’re just testing whether the bird can understand that you’re hiding something,” says Simone Pika, a cognitive scientist at Osnabrück University in Germany.

A new study that that tries to address that deficit provides some of the best proof yet that ravens, including young birds of just four months of age, have certain types of smarts that are on par with those of adult great apes. The brainy birds performed just as well as chimpanzees and orangutans across a broad array of tasks designed to measure intelligence.

“We now have very strong evidence to say that, at least in the tasks we used, ravens are very similar to great apes,” says Pika, lead author of the study. “Across a whole spectrum of cognitive skills, their intelligence is really quite amazing.” The findings, published in Scientific Reports, add to a growing body of evidence indicating that impressive cognitive skills are not solely the domain of primates but occur in certain species across the animal kingdom…

Physical tests measured the birds’ abilities to track objects in space and to understand numbers… They were surprised to find that by just four months old, the birds had mastered most tasks—to the point that, almost across the board, the young ravens’ results compared similarly to those of adult chimpanzees and orangutans that Herrmann had previously tested. “We didn’t expect that they’d master these tasks so quickly,” Pika says.

She and her colleagues suspect that ravens’ cognitive development must be fast-tracked because they begin interacting more with their ecological and social environment at about four months of age. (Based on earlier studies comparing human performance against that of other apes, Herrmann surmises that children who are 2.5 years old would outperform ravens in social cognition tasks but would be about equal to the birds for most of the physical cognition tests.)…

Claudia Wascher, a behavioral ecologist at Anglia Ruskin University in England, who was not involved in the research. “Great apes and primates in general have, for quite a long time now, been praised for their ‘extraordinary’ cognitive abilities, but we now find that other taxa, including birds, show similar cognitive performance,” she says. “In order to fully understand the evolution of cognitive abilities in nonhumans, we need much broader comparisons like this study in ravens. And we need to test many more species”. SOURCE…

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