Crows and Ravens, Part I

Odin, the father of the gods and of men, kept two wolves by his side and two ravens on his shoulders. He needed them. Odin had only one eye, a lousy memory, consumed nothing but wine (mead, actually) and, coincidentally, spoke only in poetry, never prose. 473px-odin.jpgThe ravens roamed creation every day, returning to Odin with all the news. One Raven was named Muninn (memory). The other was Huginn (thought). The ability to think and remember might constitute a working definition of “intelligence.” Together the ravens were Odin’s intelligence. The wolves, Geri and Freki, were basically pets; but wolves, as we shall see, frequently travel with ravens.

Which brings us to the first in a series of entries about Corvids, that family of birds which seem to humans to be the most intelligent of the birds. “If men had wings and bore black feathers,” according to Henry Ward Beecher, “few of them would be clever enough to be crows.”

The avian family Corvidae includes Crows, Ravens, Magpies and Jays, among others and they are all smart. Perhaps not quite as smart as the crow in the Aesop’s fable about the thirsty crow who could not reach the water in the bottom of a pitcher until she dropped enough pebbles in the pitcher to raise the water level high enough she could reach it, but pretty close. Benjamen Beck, in his book Animal Tool Behavior, describes a Crow who was fed a dried mash which its keepers were supposed to moisten before serving it. Sometimes, as humans will, they forgot. When that happened the crow picked up a small plastic cup, filled it with water from a trough, carried it to the mash and dropped the water on the mash. If the Crow spilled the water on the way to the food, it returned for more water.

Just how smart Corvids are is a question which occupies the ravenologists at the Konrad Lorenz Research Center in Grünau, Austria. The scientists who work there have witnessed Ravens tobogganing, hitching rides on other animals, hanging upside down for fun and spying on each other and on potential predators. You can read about their research here.

They probably ponder things like this:

In Part II of this post we’ll delve more into the brains of Corvids. Stay tuned. To help you stay tuned, please note the RSS feed button below. Being only semi-literate in computer, we’re not exactly sure how it works but feel free to give it a try.

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4 Responses to “Crows and Ravens, Part I”

  1. Crows and Ravens, Breaking News « Fat Finch–Birds, Birding & Blogging Says:

    [...] our earlier posts in the Crows and Ravens series, look here and here and here and [...]

  2. Orlando Harper Says:

    Crows are my favourite type of bird and I always knew that they were quite clever. Some people are scared of them but I like the way they fly with such efficiency and skill and also how they walk with pride.

  3. Sylvie Says:

    Great video. Wonderful blog!

  4. catnapping Says:

    I love crows. I talk to them all the time. They talk back, too. They coo at ya once they get to know you…and they cluck.

    I love that they’re so mischievous, and so outrageously self-serving…small wonder that they represent the Trickster in the mythology of so many of America’s first peoples.

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