Although many people seem to think them dirty or associate them with death, ravens and crows are known to be the smartest birds in the world. The corvid family, which includes crows, ravens, and jackdaws, have shown time and time again that they’re not only intelligent, but capable of adapting extremely well to life alongside humans. Recent tests have shown that, despite having much smaller brains, these birds might be as smart as chimpanzees.
The cylinder test is commonly used to measure animal’s inhibitory control, which allows them (and us by association) to put aside instinct in favor of rational action. In that test, a treat is placed within a clear tube, and animals are watched to see if they try to get the treat directly, or figure out to go through the open ends of the tube.
Recently, a University of Oxford tam tested crows, ravens, and jackdaws in this way, teaching them to access the open ends of an opaque tube, and then giving them a clear tube. All of the ravens went directly to the ends of tube to get the food, while almost 100% of the crows and jackdaws did so as well, which is about the same rate at which gorillas and bonobos perform.
In addition to being a nice feather in the cap of corvids everywhere, this discovery also tells us that bird brains are more complex than we thought, and that size alone doe not account for high animal intelligence. When this test was used on a variety of primates, great apes did best, leading scientists to assume that brain size was the most important factor in intelligence, something commonly found in popular culture. Hopefully, other researchers will build upon this study, and we’ll get to see just how intelligent corvids are.