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The Bird’s-Eye View

By Sam Byrd


In a study, ravens scored 100% in self control. Only chimps have scored a 100% in similar testing.


Is how many times smaller a raven’s brain is compared to a chimpanzee’s.

Raven Infographic

Ravens use their beaks to make sophisticated signals. During one study, the beak was used to draw attention to an object. The raven also held up an object to get another bird’s attention. The beak is used in a manner similar to how humans use fingers and hands.

Ravens have been known to speak better than some parrots. They mimic noises and other animals.

For ages, the ability to rationalize abstract thought has been one of the major characteristics that separate humans from other animals … or so it’s been thought. New research suggests birds also possess this talent.

UH Assistant Professor of Philosophy Cameron Buckner helped design a study aimed at determining animal intelligence by looking at ravens.

“Birds forage for meat. They don’t find it every day, so when they do find it, they might need to stash it away for later. They want to be able to hide these food items so that competitors cannot steal it. They can remember up to a couple dozen cache sites and come back and recover them,” says Buckner.

Buckner, along with a team of biologists at the University of Vienna, used this eat-and-stash habit to measure whether the birds can think in the abstract. The studies placed ravens in a few different situations to test their ability to connect the dots.

One study discovered that the sound of a gunshot draws ravens to investigate a possible carcass.


1157 g


24 in


48 in

To begin, the birds were trained to use a peephole to steal food they watched an experimenter hide. These birds then cached in two further conditions—one where they could easily see a competitor watching, another with a competitor safely behind an opaque wall. As expected, the birds made special effort to hide their food only when they could see a competitor watching.

The real test came when birds cached in the presence of an opaque wall with an open peephole—while the experimenters played a competitor’s sounds from a hidden loudspeaker. Could the birds connect the visual and auditory cues to infer they might be seen?

In fact they did—the birds guarded their caches just as they had when they could see a competitor watching—pointing to abstract reasoning skills typically associated only with humans.

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From inspiration to implementation, UH is changing the way it thinks about research.