10 Amazing Facts about Ravens

The most intelligent birds

  Ravens and wolf at a kill
1.The raven is the largest bird of the crow family: it is twice heavier than a common crow at 1.3 kg (3 pounds), being 60 cm (two feet) long, with a wingspan of almost 1 m (3.3 ft). Ravens can live 40 years in the wild and 70 in captivity.

2.Ravens can soar high above the trees, unlike crows, which rely on active flight. Ravens are capable of aerial stunts similar to those executed by the birds of prey.

3.Like in many other birds, when a raven is on a branch, the feet's muscles and tendons constrict automatically the toes, so that the birds waste little energy on this.

4.Ravens live from deserts to coniferous forests and coastal cliffs. In forests, they nest in stick-made nests on trees, on deserts in rock cavities.

5.They feed on fruits, seeds, nuts, fish, carrion, small animals, food remains and garbage. They even dig on snow to inspect plastic bags with waste. They also follow for days fishers and hunters. Ravens are known to steal the food of many birds and mammals, even from dogs. They can act in pairs: one individual captures dog's attention, while the other steals its food. They also follow wolf packs for picking remains from their preys.

6.The Chinese, Egyptian, Greek, Semitic and Siberian legends depict the raven as a messenger of storms or bad weather. In African, Asian and European legends, the raven forecasts death. Shakespeare presents ravens as messengers or exponents of evil (like in "Julius Caesar", "Macbeth" and "Othello"), while in "Titus Andronicus" they are described as benefactors feeding abandoned children. In his poem "The Raven", Edgar Allan Poe associates this bird with lost love and despair.

7.Raven's calls can express tenderness, happiness, surprise, emotion or rage. Ravens can imitate birds with the same vocal note, mimicking perfectly the crows. The penetrating loud croak signals that something has disturbed the raven. Some say they can be even taught to learn the human speech.

8.Ravens are considered the most intelligent birds, displaying high learning ability and use of logic for solving problems, in some tests bypassing the chimpanzees. In one experiment, a raven had to reach a piece of meat dangling from strings bound to perches. To get to the food, a raven had to follow a series of actions: pull up a string stretch, hold a loop of it on the perch with a claw, then pull up another stretch and hold that loop. The birds had to repeat the action 6 times till getting the meat, while even after 30 trial crows did not succeed.

Ravens could perform this complex sequence of actions straight away and they have never seen string before or encountered meat hanging this way. These birds pass very well complex tests, including "no tests" or "trial and error" ones that involve logic.

Ravens put other animals to do tasks for them. Their beak cannot open tough skins of the carcasses, that's why when they encounter a big corpse, they make calls that attract wolves and foxes to the site and the large carnivores can break the carcass to expose the meat for the birds.

The raven's developed intelligence is connected to their complex social lives and scavenging lifestyles. The birds must find out very rapidly how to locate themselves far enough from a wolf or fox not to be exposed to an attack when sharing a dead animal but close enough to get food.

Ravens have been even taught to count.

9.Due to their intelligence, ravens are very playful. They prank with the wolves. Once a raven headed towards a sleeping wolf and pinched it by its tail. When the wolf dashed to bite the raven, the bird jumped out. When the wolf approached tiptoe to the raven, the bird let it approach till 30 cm and flew away, landing a few meters of the wolf's back and repeating the prank.

Another raven played with wolf cubs. When the cubs had enough of playing, the raven croaked till they started playing again. In Yellowknife (northwestern Canada) ravens perched on the roofs of supermarkets waited for people to pass so that they could push snow on them.

10.Ravens like to drug themselves. They practice myrmecomany (from Old Greek "myrmex" ant, "mania" obsession). The bird sits on the soil or on an ant nest, opens its wings stretched forward, while it curbs its tail toward its belly. In the first step, the bird lets itself be invaded by angry ants and sometimes it picks ants one by one, squashing them a little bit, to introduce them inside the plumage.

Once fully covered by insects, the bird starts executing some bizarre contortions, coiled movements and spins of the body, keeping the head always risen, the feathers extended and saliva over the bill, with an absolutely delighted face. This step lasts roughly 30 minutes. After that, the bird shakes itself to get rid of the ants.

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By    14 Nov 2007, 22:44 GMT