Feeds

Ravens' secret sign code probed

Saying 'nevermore' etc with beak gesture, seemingly

Build a business case: developing custom apps

A conspiracy of ravens may be conspiring more than we ever thought, as researchers have discovered that the carrion-scoffing birds use their beaks to gesture and communicate.

Raven croaking

Raven croaking. Credit: Franco Atirador

Previously, so-called deictic gestures – such as pointing to signify "look" and holding something out to someone to signify "take" – were considered solely the province of human beings and our nearest relatives, the great apes.

The gestures are considered highly intelligent and the precursor to speech as it's the first use of a symbol – using one thing to mean something else.

Children use these gestures between the ages of nine and 12 months, before they first start talking, and the behaviour has also been seen in great apes, but quite rarely.

Now, two scientists from the Max Planck Institute for Ornithology and the University of Vienna are claiming that the raven also uses deictic gestures.

After two years of observing the storytelling abilities of wild ravens in Austria, Thomas Bugnya and Simone Pika said that the birds use their beaks to both show and offer objects like moss, stones and twigs, usually to the opposite sex.

Ravens have long been known to be highly intelligent, evidenced by high degrees of cooperation with each other. But this is the first time they have been seen to be communicating in a similar way to primates.

"Gesture studies have too long focused on communicative skills of primates only. The mystery of the origins of human language, however, can only be solved if we look at the bigger picture and also consider the complexity of the communication systems of other animal groups," said Pika.

The study was published in Nature Communications. ®

Boost IT visibility and business value

More from The Register

next story
Just TWO climate committee MPs contradict IPCC: The two with SCIENCE degrees
'Greenhouse effect is real, but as for the rest of it ...'
Asteroid's DINO KILLING SPREE just bad luck – boffins
Sauricide WASN'T inevitable, reckon scientists
Brit amateur payload set to complete full circle around PLANET EARTH
Ultralight solar radio tracker in glorious 25,000km almost-space odyssey
Boffins spot weirder quantum capers as neutrons take the high road, spin takes the low
Cheshire cat effect see neutrons and their properties walk different paths
NASA Mars rover FINALLY equals 1973 Soviet benchmark
Yet to surpass ancient Greek one, however
Famous 'Dish' radio telescope to be emptied in budget crisis: CSIRO
Radio astronomy suffering to protect Square Kilometre Array
prev story

Whitepapers

Implementing global e-invoicing with guaranteed legal certainty
Explaining the role local tax compliance plays in successful supply chain management and e-business and how leading global brands are addressing this.
Boost IT visibility and business value
How building a great service catalog relieves pressure points and demonstrates the value of IT service management.
Why and how to choose the right cloud vendor
The benefits of cloud-based storage in your processes. Eliminate onsite, disk-based backup and archiving in favor of cloud-based data protection.
The Essential Guide to IT Transformation
ServiceNow discusses three IT transformations that can help CIO's automate IT services to transform IT and the enterprise.
Maximize storage efficiency across the enterprise
The HP StoreOnce backup solution offers highly flexible, centrally managed, and highly efficient data protection for any enterprise.