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Bugnyar Thomas | Fellow Postdoctoral
2001-06-01 - 2001-08-31 | Research area: Cognition and Sociality
Social Cognition in Ravens

Ravens (Corvus corax) are one of the behaviourally most flexible birds in the world and are thus commonly regarded as "intelligent". This project aims to explore the importance of social foraging for the evolution of their cognitive abilities.

In the course of my Ph.D. project I examined the role of attentiveness towards conspecifcs during foraging in both aviary-kept and free-ranging ravens. Individuals were shown either to attract or avoid the attention of conspecifics, depending on the need to cooperate for gaining access to the resource (e.g. in overcoming the food defence of dominant individuals or potential predators such as wolves) and to reduce the competition for food. Particularly in the context of food caching, individuals appeared to manipulate the attention of conspecifics. Ravens were only able to efficiently find and raid the caches of others after having observed them caching. However, cache-makers tended to choose positions in a way that vegetation, logs or boulders would obstruct the view of nearby conspecifics. Potential raiders, on the other hand, seemed to conceal their intentions as they inconspiously followed the cachers and kept at a distance until those had left the site. Thus, ravens were likely to mutually deceive each other during both, caching and raiding.

I am currently analyzing two experiments with aviary-kept birds with regard to the conditions promoting the use of such deceptive skills. The results suggest that social dynamics as well as limitation of resources may lead individuals to concentrate on cache raiding and thus force both cachers and raiders to use, and even to improve, their deceptive skills. Experiments exploring a) the forms of learning involved and b) the order of intentionality underlying these deceptive behaviors are in preparation.