A new paper published in the Science journal reports on a research study which found something incredibly surprising about the exceptional cognitive abilities of ravens.

Ravens, along with other birds such as jays and crows, belong to a family called corvids. Corvids have long fascinated researchers because of their astonishing intelligence. In the past, studies on Eurasian jays have found that the birds are capable of storing food away to eat it at a later time which suggests that the creatures are capable of planning for future events. This kind of behavior is exceptionally rare in the animal kingdom. In fact, before this discovery, it was believed that only human beings and great apes were capable of it.

New study finds that ravens may be more intelligent than great apes

Some researchers believed that storing food might be the limit of the birds’ cognitive abilities. However, others suspected that the birds might be capable of far more. Now a new research paper from Lund University in Sweden seems to validate the latter view.

The researchers trained ravens to use a simply machine where dropping a rock into a tube would earn them a food reward. Later, they were placed in a room with the same puzzle box and a row of objects, including the rock and several other distractions. Nearly all of the ravens picked up the rock and attempted to open the puzzle box, and 86% of them were successful. According to one of the authors of the study, Can Kabadayi, a doctoral student in cognitive science, one of the ravens figured out how to prise open the puzzle box using sticks. This same raven was one of the first to figure out how to open the puzzle box using a rock and was seen teaching other ravens how to successfully work the tube.

In a follow-up experiment, 78% of the ravens were also able to successfully barter with humans and exchange goods for a reward. This is a phenomenal rate of success as it is actually significantly higher than has been found in similar experiments conducted with apes.

The sheer intelligence of the birds came as something of a surprise to the investigators, particularly considering that in some areas they appear to be even more intelligent than the great apes. The brain of an ape is quite large compared to other animals, indicative of their high levels of intelligence. However, the brain of the corvid is only the size of a walnut. Investigations have uncovered that the birds make up for what they lack in size with an incredibly density of neurons in their brains. According to Kabadayi, their neural connection speeds may even be faster than those of mammals because they are so closely concentrated together.