The intelligence of the raven

In a Hallowe’en context, the raven represents the incarnation of evil, damned souls and Satan. At one time, in Europe, a dead raven was nailed to the door of a house to protect those within from misfortune. The bird’s bad reputation, however, is unfounded. The raven is actually a sensitive, intelligent creature which plays an important role in the balance of nature.

My colleague Louis Lefebvre, a professor at McGill University, has developed a measurement scale for the Intelligence quotient (IQ) of birds based on hundreds of scientific studies. According to him, birds in the Corvidae family (or Corvid…not Covid!) – which includes jays, crows and ravens – sit enthroned at the top of the intelligence scale.

A raven’s intelligence is comparable to that of a chimpanzee or a three-year-old child, whether in finding food, communicating with its peers or playing. Ravens have been seen amusing themselves with pine cones or twigs, throwing stones at intruders, and even sliding down snow-covered roofs.

The raven uses a complex language of sounds, gestures and postures. It imitates the calls and cries of other birds and animals, points with its beak to indicate something (as we would with an index finger) or grasps an object to attract the attention of its kind. The raven recognizes its friends, even after several years of separation, and comforts them after a quarrel by preening their feathers or giving them food.

Another proof of intelligence is that the raven can find food for itself in extremely different habitats, including city, forest, farming area or Arctic tundra. It cleans up animal carcasses, as well as feeding on fruit, nuts, seeds and garbage. Cautious about danger, it can live forty years or more.

The raven is anything but a bird of misfortune. Its majesty and intelligence were recognized by the Indigenous people of North America. This is the bird that created the world, protects humans, and is at the origin of the stars, and of water and fire. Next time you see one, bow low before this exceptional creature.

Jacques Prescott83 Posts

Jacques Prescott est biologiste, professeur associé à la Chaire en éco-conseil de l’Université du Québec à Chicoutimi et co-fondateur de l’Animalium, le musée zoologique de Mont-Tremblant. Spécialiste de la biodiversité et du développement durable, il est l’auteur de nombreux livres et articles sur la faune et la conservation de la nature. Il nous fait l’honneur de rejoindre notre équipe de collaborateurs et signera chaque mois une chronique intitulée Faune et flore. / Jacques Prescott is a biologist, associate professor with the Chair in Eco-Counselling of the Université du Québec à Chicoutimi, and co-founder of Animalium, the zoological museum of Mont-Tremblant. A specialist in biodiversity and sustainable development, he is the author of numerous books and articles about wildlife and nature conservation. He has honoured us by joining our team of contributors and will write a monthly column entitled Wildlife and Habitat.

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