SUNDAY, 29 JANUARY 2012
Simone Pika from the Max Planck Institute for Ornithology and Thomas Bugnyar from the University of Vienna observed the behaviour of 7 raven dyads living in the Austrian Alps, and found 38 examples of such non-vocal communication. All involved the showing or offering of inedible items such as moss and twigs to another individual. Since the recipient is usually of the opposite sex, it is thought that such communication may be used to gauge the interest of a potential mate, or to strengthen pre-existing bonds.
Ravens, along with other members of the corvid family, were already known to be amongst the most cognitively sophisticated of birds. However, it is not only within the sphere of deictic communication that corvids give primates a run for their money. Ravens are unusually co-operative and invest a great deal of time in establishing relationships, since both parents are required to raise the young. Corvids also perform well on problem-solving tasks that require tool use and innovation.
The study of such non-verbal communication is of interest to those retracing the evolutionary steps of our ancestors and their acquisition of language. The convergent evolution of gestures in a distant relative such as the raven may help to shed light on the purpose of such behaviours.
Written by Rosy Southwell