Although the evidence is new, the ability of ravens to see ahead has long been suspected: In Greek mythology, they are associated with the god of prophecy, an old term for a group of ravens is "conspiracy" and in "Game of Thrones" a three-eyed raven appears in a prince's prophetic visions.
Based on the results of these experiments, the researchers wrote, "It is conservative to conclude that ravens perform similarly to great apes and young children" - and, it should be noted, better than monkeys, who have failed similar experiments in the past, according to NPR.
They are almost the only birds that produce tools (branches make hooks that get grubacic), and transfer these skills to the next generation, says Andriy Bokotey, President of the Western Ukrainian ornithological society. Corvids-a family of birds that includes ravens, jays, and crows-seem to delight in doing just that.
"To be able to solve tasks like these, one needs a collection of cognitive abilities working in concert, such as inhibitory skills and different forms of memory", says Mathias Osvath, Associate Professor in Cognitive Zoology at Lund University. But a new study published in the journal Science, described how the birds could easily choose the instruments for further use and can cooperate with people exchanging items for future consideration, reports The Independent. When presented with the box containing the kibble fifteen minutes later, the ravens passed on the smaller reward 86 percent of the time, ignoring the distractors, and picking the correct tool to open the box.
In other tests, ravens were presented with a token they could use to trade for something better at a later time.
The researchers found that the birds would tend to opt out of immediate food rewards because of the promise of larger, tastier treats later.
The team also tested whether ravens were capable of self-control.
Later they're led to a place where they get to select an object. The ravens went for the token instead of a more immediate reward 77 percent of the time.
Recent studies on great apes showed the ability is not uniquely human.
The delay between the item selection and the task ranged from 15 minutes to 17 hours depending on the experiment.
"One of [our] most interesting results is that intelligence is not restricted to human lineage", said Kabadayi. The researchers then moved the puzzle box out of the bird's sight. Surprisingly, ravens have proved to be very successful in all the tasks presented to them.
Taylor says this is the key control - divorcing the token from food association - that's missing from the study.
Birds are capable of extraordinary behavioural feats, from solving complex puzzles to tool making.
Still, not everyone believes the study shows that ravens are thinking into the future. They even have a brain structure that's analogous to the mammalian neocortex - the part responsible for higher order functioning like conscious thought, sensory perception, spatial reasoning and language. There are many different theories why ravens would have learned to plan ahead, including their complex social hierarchy and environmental factors.
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