Here at La Parola, home of Talking Crow Productions, we have long watched scientists with interest as they try to discover whether crows and ravens are as clever as they seem, particularly since this is yet another area where the crows are not forthcoming and the scientists have to stretch their own powers of observation to deduce what pretty much everybody else knows.
So, we enjoyed an entertaining article on crows and ravens in the April 2007 Scientific American, “Just How Smart Are Ravens?” (Bernd Heinrich and Thomas Bugnyar, p.64. The full text of the article is not available online.)
The article described experiments in considerable detail that suggest that the genus corvus (crows and ravens) possess formidable “reasoning” power in learning new adaptive skills. Without having been taught, or wasting time on repetitive trial and error, corvus uses logical or “reasoning” skills for problem solving. The authors felt that these skill levels may even surpass the better documented abilities of the great apes.
Not only are these birds clever, they are socially gregarious and exploit their powers of observation to selectively communicate with others, or hide information from them (where did he hide his food cache?) The birds even use play skills to manipulate dangerous larger predators such as wolves into sharing their food kills.
Don’t Ask; Don’t Tell
Once again, our big disappointment was that no attention was paid to how crows and ravens communicate with each other through calls, or to whether or not they possess the power of speech. Metaphorically at least, once could say that no one thought to ask the crows, preferring the backdoor approach of devising tests to determine whether the crows really knew what they know. And, as always, it appears that the crows simply weren’t talking.