Ravens, it seems, never forget a beaked face. In the wild, the birds live in groups until they select mates, then each pair diverges into a solitary, conjugal life.
In the lab, researchers mimic these social arrangements and keep pairs in separate aviaries. But the ravens remember their old comrades from group life and recognize their recorded calls, reacting one way to birds that were their friends and another to ones that were not.
Jorg Massen and his colleagues at the University of Vienna conducted a study that looked at the
birds’ understanding of third-party relations. They wanted to know whether ravens have a mental representation of the way others should act. It appears they do.
Working with one group
of birds, Massen’s team played recorded calls of other ravens
the birds had observed but hadn’t interacted with. They chose
calls that would deliberately upset the hierarchy — for instance, playing the submissive call of a No. 2 bird after a dominance call from No. 3. They found that the birds had little patience for rebelliousness, even in groups other than their own. “It represents a turnover in rank, and they react strongly to it,” Massen explains. “If this were The Sopranos, it would be as if one of the underbosses were shouting at Tony.”
Don't Underestimate Reptiles