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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.

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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.

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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.

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Photo: Ron Mead

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Members of the search and rescue team from Miami search the rubble for missing persons at Fort Myers Beach, after Florida was hit by Hurricane Ian.

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Welcome to Tuesday, where North Korea reportedly fires a missile over Japan for the first time in five years, Ukrainian President Zelensky signs a decree vowing to never negotiate with Russia while Putin is in power, and a lottery win raises eyebrows in the Philippines. Meanwhile, Argentine daily Clarin looks at how the translation of a Bible in an indigenous language in Chile has sparked a debate over the links between language, colonialism and cultural imposition.

[*Assyrian, Syria]

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