No Birdbrain: Ravens Are Way Smarter Than You Think

No Birdbrain: Ravens Are Way Smarter Than You Think

Ravens tend to have a bad rap.

In the Middle Ages, because they fed on corpses after executions, they were associated with gallows. In mythology, two ravens symbolizing wisdom and intelligence were attributes of the northern god Odin.

But ravens — and other members of the corvine family like crows, jackdaws and magpies — are crafty and fast learners and far more adaptable than other birds.

In Japan, for example, crows have learned how to use cars as nutcrackers. On streets that other types of birds tend to avoid, crows march out and put the nuts onto the asphalt. Then, they patiently wait nearby until a car drives over the nut and cracks it.

Researchers at Idaho State University and the Wildlife Conservation Society have provided further evidence of ravens' learning capabilities, says Süddeutsche Zeitung. Their study in The Condor, an ornithological scientific journal, counted the nests of common ravens and other birds of prey in an Idaho steppe, comparing these numbers with historical data. They found that the ravens had learned to build their nests on electrical and mobile radio poles as well as on buildings.

The study also showed that they have grown in number. Back in 1986, common ravens were considered unusual breeding birds in the region; today, they're the biggest breeders and account for 50% of all nests.

These ravens have made so much use of man-made nesting spots that they now prefer them over natural ones. A clear favorite for the birds is electrical posts, and scientists suspect ice-cold calculation is behind this choice. If the ravens swoop down to attack from the posts they can reach higher speeds than if they jump off a sagebrush shrub, the dominant plant in the steppe. Plus, these nests are better protected from their enemies — not to mention the nice breeze up there on hot summer days.

Ravens are also pretty talented in getting others to do their work for them. With their song (yes, despite the cawing they are associated with, these birds are indeed songbirds) they lure wolves to animal cadavers and let them tear the meat into beak-sized pieces. Without the help of the wolves and their mighty teeth, ravens would never be able to get through the cadaver's fur and skin, and would remain, well, ravenous.

Ravens also freeload off other ravens. They plunder others' food caches, and pay very careful attention that they go unobserved when they hide their own supplies.

After all — they know who they’re dealing with.

Photo: Ron Mead

Keep up with the world. Break out of the bubble.
Sign up to our expressly international daily newsletter!
Migrant Lives

The Other Scandal At The Poland-Belarus Border: Where's The UN?

The United Nations, UNICEF, Red Cross and other international humanitarian organizations seems to be trying to reach the Polish-Belarusian border, where Belarus leader Alexander Lukashenko is creating a refugee crisis on purpose.

Migrants in Michalowo, Belarus, next to the border with Poland.

Wojciech Czuchnowski

WARSAW — There is no doubt that the refugees crossing the Belarusian border with Poland — and by extension reaching the European Union — were shepherded through by the regime of Alexander Lukashenko. There is more than enough evidence that this is an organized action of the dictator using a network of intermediaries stretching from Africa and the Middle East. But that is not all.

The Belarusian regime has made no secret that its services are guiding refugees to the Polish border, literally pushing them onto (and often, through) the wires.

It can be seen in films made available to the media by... Belarusian border guards and Lukashenko's official information agencies.

Tactics of a strongman

Refugees are not led to the border by "pretend soldiers" in uniforms from a military collectibles store. These are regular formations commanded by state authorities. Their actions violate all rules of peaceful coexistence and humanitarianism to which Belarus has committed itself as a state.

Belarus is dismissed by the "rest of the world" as a hopeless case of a bizarre (although, in the last year, increasingly brutal) dictatorship. But it still formally belongs to a whole range of organizations whose principles it violates every day on the border with Poland.

Indeed, Belarus is a part of the United Nations (it is even listed as a founding state in its declaration), it belongs to the UNICEF, to the International Committee of the Red Cross, and even to the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE).

Photo of Polish soldiers setting up a barbed wire fence in the Border Zone near Krynki, Belarus

Polish soldiers set up a barbed wire fence in the Border Zone near Krynki, Belarus

Maciej Luczniewski/ZUMA

Lukashenko would never challenge the Red Cross

Each of these entities has specialized bureaus whose task is to intervene wherever conventions and human rights are violated. Each of these organizations should have sent their observers and representatives to the conflict area long ago — and without asking Belarus for permission. They should be operating on both sides of the border, as their presence would certainly make it more difficult to break the law.

An incomprehensible absence

Neither the leader of Poland's ruling party Jaroslaw Kaczyński nor even Lukashenko would dare to keep the UN, UNICEF, OSCE or the Red Cross out of their countries.

In recent weeks, the services of one UN state (Belarus) have been regularly violating the border of another UN state (Poland). In the nearby forests, children are being pushed around and people are dying. Despite all of this, none of the international organizations seems to be trying to reach the border nor taking any kind of action required by their responsibilities.

Their absence in such a critical time and place is completely incomprehensible, and their lack of action raises questions about the use of international treaties and organizations created to protect them.

Keep up with the world. Break out of the bubble.
Sign up to our expressly international daily newsletter!