Thursday, September 29, 2011

Ravens Use Beaks Like Hands in Communicating

The researchers found that ravens often use their beaks like hands to make gestures, such as this male raven is doing as the bird shows two of its kin an object in its beak. Photo courtesy: Thomas Bugnyar via

Ravens, crows, johnny rooks and others in the same family are known for their incredible intelligence and ability to problem solve. It is not surprising to learn that they have developed gestures in order to communicate information to others of their flock. What does surprise me is that it took scientists so long to discover what many bird watchers already knew.

Ravens use their beaks and wings much like humans rely on our hands to make gestures, such as for pointing to an object, scientists now find.

This is the first time researchers have seen gestures used in this way in the wild by animals other than primates.

From the age of 9 to 12 months, human infants often use gestures to direct the attention of adults to objects, or to hold up items so that others can take them. These gestures, produced before children speak their first words, are seen as milestones in the development of human speech.

Dogs and other animals are known to point out items using gestures, but humans trained these animals. Scientists had suggested the natural development of these gestures was normally confined only to primates, said researcher Simone Pika, a biologist at the Max Planck Institute for Ornithology in Seewiesen, Germany. Even then, comparable gestures are rarely seen in the wild in our closest living relatives, the great apes — for instance, chimpanzees in the Kibale National Park in Uganda employ so-called directed scratches to indicate distinct spots on their bodies they want groomed.

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