Smart Birds: Ravens Can Plan Ahead Just Like Humans


Ravens aren't primarily known as the intelligent creatures in the animal kingdom, but new research shows that the ebony birds may have a unique ability that surpasses even the abilities of young human children. As it turns out, much like great apes, ravens are capable of planning for future needs.

Planning For The Future

Planning for the future is something that is more often associated with human behavior. If anything, primates are the only animals that are considered to be closest to having the human capability to plan ahead of the need.

Now, however, a new study by Can Kabadayi and Mathias Osvath from the Lund University of Sweden shows advanced cognitive abilities in ravens. In fact, in some instances, the results of their tests showed that when it comes to planning for the future, ravens can surpass the capabilities of great apes and four-year-old children.

Tool Usage

What the pair did was replicate a test that was previously used to test apes' future planning capabilities. The researchers first taught the ravens how to use a stone to release a food pellet from a puzzle box.

The following day, the ravens were presented with choices that included the stone and a few other objects meant to distract them 15 minutes before being presented with the puzzle box. Despite the 15-minute delay, the ravens were able to choose the correct tool 80 percent of the time and use it correctly 86 percent of the time.

Bartering With Bottle Caps

Another test was done by giving the ravens the chance to exchange bottle caps for food. Just like in the previous test, the ravens were able to select the bottle caps even after a 15-minute delay and even when presented with other distracting objects.

What's even more impressive is the fact that the ravens were still able to choose the stone or bottle cap from the items correctly even when the tests were conducted with 17-hour delays .


Two more experiments were carried out but, this time, to study the ravens' capability for self-control. What they did was to present the ravens with a tray that contained the stone or bottle cap, the distractors, and an immediate reward.

In the control tests when no tool or token were available, the ravens selected the reward 100 percent of the time. However, when the tool or token was present, the ravens selected the tool 73.8 percent of time and the token 73.2 percent of the time on average.

The results of the study suggest that ravens are capable of planning and deciding for the future outside of their immediate sensory context. Experts hypothesize that perhaps possible explanations for the ravens' cognitive ability are their complex social networks and the rarity of their meal sources, which made them into clever utilizers of their resources.

Is it really that surprising, though, especially after we learned that these same birds have the capability of remembering humans who treated them unfairly? Perhaps not, and perhaps we are yet to learn the full capabilities of these intelligent birds.

The study is published in the journal Science.

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