Do ravens plan for the future?

Why Evolution Is True

The answer to the title question is “apparently so, and at the level of great apes and four-year-old human children”. That, at least, is the conclusion of Can Kabadayi  and Mathias Osvath, the authors of a new paper in Science on raven behavior in the lab (reference and free download below; see also the Perspective summary in Science by Markus Boeckle and Nicky Clayton).

Ravens, like most corvids, are very smart. They’re known to cache food for later consumption; they know when another raven is watching them cache, and then re-hide their food in response; and they can follow the gaze of another raven looking at its cache, and then pilfer that cache later. These, however, aren’t regarded as ravens using new information to plan for the future, though it seems to come close to that!

What Kabadayi and Osvath did was to teach five captive, hand-reared ravens two new skills…

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