The cognitive development of ravens at the tender age of four months is on par with that of adult apes, a new study has revealed.
Led by researchers from Germany, the study aimed to explore how ravens understand the environment and communicate with each other. For this purpose, eight hand-raised ravens were examined over a period of time when they reached the age of four, eight, twelve and sixteen months.
The parameters on the basis of which the birds were evaluated included addition, relative numbers, spatial memory and object permanence which relates to the understanding that objects out of sight still exist.
Although the performance of the birds differed between individuals, it was observed that the ravens were best in tasks that involved addition and comprehending relative numbers. They fared worst when it came to tasks that examined spatial memory.
It was also found that the skills of the birds did not vary much between the age of four and sixteen months. This indicated that cognitive development happens rapidly in the first four months of their lives and they become largely independent from their parents. At this age, they start discovering their ecological and social surroundings.
The research led by Simone Pika of the University of Osnabruck compared the cognitive performance of the birds to that of 106 chimpanzees and 32 orangutans that were examined as part of a prior study involving similar tasks. The researchers found that apart from the tasks involving spatial memory, the young ravens were as good as the apes.
The findings suggested that the young ravens may have evolved sophisticated cognitive skills just as the adult great apes like chimpanzees and orangutans.
“Our results suggest that ravens are not only social intellects but have also developed sophisticated cognitive skills for dealing with the physical world,” the study said.
The researchers said that the ravens may have developed these cognitive skills in response to living in a constantly changing environment, where their survival depends upon communication and cooperation between fellow members of the species.