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Ravens Gesture With Beaks Just Like Humans Use Hands

THURSDAY, Dec. 1 -- A new study says ravens use their beaks to point out and hold up objects to attract the attention of other ravens, a behavior so far observed only in humans and great apes.

Researchers spent two years observing the non-vocal behavior of individually marked members of a wild raven community in Austria. The ravens used their beaks like hands to point to and offer objects such as moss, stones and twigs.

The gestures were most often directed at a partner of the opposite sex and frequently succeeded in getting the other raven to pay attention and interact, said the researchers from the Max Planck Institute for Ornithology and the University of Vienna.

Ravens are among the smartest of birds and their scores on various intelligence tests are similar to those of great apes, according to a news release. Ravens have a relatively high degree of cooperation between partners, complex communication within pairs, and take relatively long times to form bonds.

This study, published in the Nov. 29 issue of Nature Communications, shows that differentiated gestures are especially evolved in species with a high degree of collaborative abilities, the author says, and may help improve knowledge about the development of human language.

"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" study co-author Simone Pika, from the Max Planck Institute, said in the release.

More information

The Nova Scotia Museum of Natural History has more about ravens.

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Posted: December 2011