Image: Diliff, Wikimedia Commons

Planning for the future is not usually a characteristic associated with birds — but ravens parallel great apes with their uncanny ability to plan ahead. 

A new study published in Science shows how ravens are capable of basic forward-planning abilities, on the same level as apes and four-year-old children. This study was specifically designed so that it would not emulate any task a raven would normally encounter in the wild. The goal was to determine whether or not ravens could prepare for the future when faced with foreign behaviors.

Researcher Mathias Osvath originally designed tasks to determine whether or not primates were planners. While great apes succeeded, monkeys failed. The scientist then applied the same tests on ravens as parallels have been found between human, ape, and bird brains, and the results were astonishing.

The first experiment trained ravens to to dislodge dog food from boxes with a stone. After some time the ravens were then presented with a collection of objects including the stone. The ravens were allowed to select a tool and were then shown the box again. They had to drop the stone into it in order to be rewarded, and did so with a high percentage of success.

Image: Ron Mead, Flickr

The second experiment involved a bartering procedure. Ravens were trained to exchange tokens for rewards, then afterwards had to select the correct token from a collection of unrelated objects in order to present it to the experimenter for the reward. The birds picked the correct token 143 out of 144 times, as confirmed by New Scientist.

“This experiment provides an important puzzle piece for understanding the evolution of intelligent behavior,” Markus Böckle, a comparative biologist at the University of Cambridge in the United Kingdom stated to Science.

Ravens may be much smarter than we give them credit for.