We humans point at things with our fingers, or by motioning with our head and eyes. Other apes do much the same thing. Now we know that raven do it, too. In their case, they point with their beaks.
A study by German and Austrian experts has shown ravens to be far more intelligent than previously thought.
They observed wild ravens using their beaks to show and offer each other objects such as moss, stones and twigs, and using their beaks as if they were hands.
The gestures were mainly between ravens of the opposite sex and helped them become closer by introducing each other to interesting objects and then sharing them.
The study’s author, Dr. Simone Pika, of the Max Planck Institute in Berlin, said it was the first evidence ravens use gestures ‘to test the interest of a potential partner or to strengthen an already existing bond’.
Understanding that when someone points at something, she wants you to look at to the object, not at her own finger – takes some advanced brain power.
So, how smart is a raven? Magpies, who are raven cousins, have been shown to recognize themselves in mirrors. Dolphins, humans, chimps and elephants can also do it.
But Dr. Pica doesn’t like ranking animals in order of what we humans deem to be intelligence:
“In my view, all species have adapted to distinct social and ecological settings and niches, and thus, a given species might behave in a distinct situation ‘smarter’ than another one in the same situation and vice versa. In my opinion, it is much more interesting to investigate why one species can solve a given task better than another one and how and why this behavior evolved.”
The study is published in the journal Nature Communications.