Young crows found to be smarter than great apes

Scientists at the Max Planck Institute for Ornithology and Evolutionary Anthropology in Germany were able to verify that the cognitive development of crows could occur faster than great apes. Domesticated common ravens develop all their mental abilities by four months of age.

Researchers came to this conclusion after subjecting eight ravens to a modified version of the Primate Cognition Test Battery (PCTB) every four months after birth. 

In this series of tests, they not only examined their thought process but their social skills, such as communication and theory of mind. As a result, they realized that by four months of age the crows already had the social skills and other cognitive abilities of an adult orangutan, although their brain had not yet fully grown. 

In addition, they compared the results of birds with previously collected data on primates: chimpanzees and orangutans. It turns out that crows that can barely fly are already capable of solving problems that would make an orangutan scratch it’s head while thinking.

When the scientists took age into account for each skill set, the four-month-old and the 16-month-old birds did not show a significant difference in their physical and social abilities. Each specimen, on average, performed best in quantitative domains and fared worst in spatial components. 

Maybe scientists lose sight of something? 

However, researchers admit that their study may have had several limitations that ended up distorting their perception of the crows’ abilities.

Perhaps a test designed for primates is not adequate enough to detect subtle distinctions in bird behavior. But tests conducted by other researchers on parrots, using the PCTB, did not show similar cognitive talent compared to crows.

It could also be possible that the differences appear before four months or after 16 months, or perhaps the group of eight crows is too small to draw clear conclusions. 

However, the results of this study are evidence that ravens prioritize their social skills just like humans and develop them early with other cognitive abilities. In addition to being intelligent, these birds are also capable of sharing emotional states and competing for resources.

“Since ravens’ and other corvids’ social life is highly competitive, all aspects of their cognitive abilities have likely been shaped by the need to out-compete conspecifics in general,” the researchers conclude in their study, cited by Science Alert.