Ravens have sophisticated cognitive skills at four months old equal to adult apes

By Chrissy Sexton

By just four months of age, the cognitive abilities of ravens may be comparable to those of adult great apes, according to a new study published in Scientific Reports.

Researchers have demonstrated that young ravens are intellectually advanced in how they interact with others, and also in how they execute tasks which test their understanding of the physical world.

A team of experts led by Simone Pika analyzed the cognitive skills of eight hand-raised ravens at four, eight, 12, and 16 months of age using a series of tests.

The researchers were particularly focused on the following skills: spatial memory; object permanence – understanding that an object still exists when it is out of sight; relative numbers and addition; and the ability to communicate with and learn from a human.

The study revealed that the cognitive performance of ravens was relatively stable from four to 16 months of age. This finding indicates that the cognitive skills of the young birds have nearly or fully developed by four months of age.

At four months, ravens become more and more independent from their parents and start to discover their ecological and social environments. 

While task performance varied among individuals, the birds generally had the highest scores in relative numbers and addition, and the lowest scores on spatial memory. 

In a previous study, 106 chimpanzees and 32 orangutans had completed similar tasks. The current investigation revealed that the cognitive performance of the ravens was very similar to that of both orangutans and chimpanzees.

The research provides evidence that ravens may have evolved general, sophisticated cognitive skills like great apes. The experts theorize that ravens developed these skills in response to living in a constantly changing environment where survival and reproduction are reliant on cooperation and alliances between ravens.

The researchers emphasize, however, that the performance of the ravens observed for the study may not be representative of the species in general.

The study is published in the journal Scientific Reports.

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