Ravens may be smarter than apes and even toddlers — no offense to your adorable two-year-old.
Birds from the corvid family, which includes ravens, crows, jays, and magpies, have long been recognized for their superior intelligence. Studies have shown that crows can remember human faces and ravens hold grudges against people who treat them unfairly, for example.
But until recently, scientists thought they lacked an ability previously seen in only humans and apes: planning for the future. It turns out ravens can not only plan ahead, but they’re even capable of delayed gratification, opting to pass up a treat now for a better one later.
In a study published in the journal Science, researchers from Lund University in Sweden set up a series of basic experiments to test the birds’ abstract thinking skills.
In one experiment, ravens learned to get food from a container by dropping a small rock into a tube. Later, the scientists removed the container and offered the ravens a choice of objects, including the rock. Most of the birds chose the rock, anticipating the next time the container would appear. Even when the box was returned 17 hours later, they remembered how to successfully use the tool in exchange for food.
The researchers were surprised not just by how smart the birds were, but by the fact that they were even able to hack the experiment.
According to Motherboard, one particularly crafty raven figured out how to set up sticks inside the tube and force it open, bypassing the rock mechanism altogether. The researchers had to quickly remove the bird from the study before it taught the others the sneaky trick.
Talk about an overachiever!