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Ravens are even smarter than we imagine, scientists say

BOB HALLINEN / Daily News archive

We knew they were pretty smart, but ravens have been elevated by European researchers into the lofty company of apes and humans for their observed use of physical gestures to draw the attention of others of their species. Reporting in the journal Nature Communications, the researchers say they saw ravens use their beaks to show and offer nonfood objects to other ravens, usually potential mates. Researcher Simone Pika told the Fairbanks Daily News-Miner she had to overcome skepticism among colleagues before beginning the research.

Pika and [research partner Thomas] Bugnyar, who is with the University of Vienna, spent three field seasons in the mountains of Austria observing ravens. They witnessed 38 social interactions between raven pairs, such as using their beaks to show objects to other ravens, mainly members of the opposite sex. The objects were clearly being presented so a partner would notice them, the study said, which led to interaction between the birds such as manipulating the object together.

A summary of the study said such behavior is "extremely rare," even among great ape species such as chimpanzees. Rare enough, in fact, that Pika said Bugnyar quickly dismissed the possibility of such behavior in ravens when she asked him about it in 2007.

"He looked at me very perplexed and surprised," Pika wrote in an email. "Then he shook his head and said: No."

Read more on the raven study in the News-Miner and elsewhere.