Are Ravens Smart? Everything We Know About Their Intelligence

Raven eating carrion
© Raven eating carrion/

Written by Alanna Davis

Published: October 23, 2023

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While some people might think birds aren’t that smart, that’s far from the truth. Many birds have high cognitive function, and some are even able to problem-solve on the same level as human children! Although birds may have small brains, they have incredible reasoning power and are able to perform a wide variety of tasks. Among the smartest birds of all is Corvidae, a family that consists of many birds, including crows, magpies, rooks, and ravens to name a few. The cognition of ravens develops very quickly, and they can reach their full potential between four to twelve months of age. This is incredibly fast and impressive, and only a handful of other animals mature at the same pace. Today we’ll discuss everything we currently know about the intelligence of ravens.

Ravens: A Brief Overview

Common Raven - group of birds in early spring at a wet forest

Ravens are very skilled fliers, and have the ability to fly upside down and perform tricks mid-air.

©Simonas Minkevicius/

Despite their intelligence, these jet-black birds have gotten a bad rap over the years. In the past, people have associated ravens and crows with witches and some believe them to be their pets. Others dislike them because of their diet, which consists of less than appetizing meals. Some of which are insects, dead animals, and other birds. Edgar Allen Poe even wrote a poem called “The Raven,” which tackles incredibly dark themes, such as loss and the inability to find acceptance. Due to these factors, some people think these birds bring bad luck or ominous energy with them. However, this is no more than folklore. The truth is that all of these rumors are based on superstition.

Despite this, ravens also serve as a symbol of wisdom and knowledge. This is very fitting, given their high intelligence. Ancient Greeks believed that ravens were oracles and had the ability to predict the future. Although these birds may not be able to see what lies ahead, they can plan for it, which we’ll discuss more later on. In Native American culture, ravens symbolize a transformative period of life. Today, some people believe that ravens live at the precipe of the spiritual world and the physical world. Although ravens share a common ancestor with mammals that date back to roughly 320 million years ago, these birds developed independently. Regardless of how you view these birds, it’s hard to deny how impressively smart they are.

How Smart Are Ravens Exactly?

Raven on a beach

Ravens have an incredible vocal range and can make dozens of distinct sounds.


We know that ravens are smart, but just how smart are they? It is widely accepted that these birds are capable of abstract thought, and can reason through complex problems on a level similar to humans or primates. Several research institutions have conducted studies to test the bounds of their intelligence. Currently, it is accepted that ravens are among the brightest animals for a variety of reasons. They have acute reasoning and problem-solving abilities. In addition, they are able to plan for the future and resist impulses for instant gratification if a greater reward is available. The studies in question have tested their abilities in each of these categories. These behaviors are rarely displayed in animals, especially such small ones.

On top of their cognitive intelligence, ravens also display a certain level of social intelligence that is similar to humans. These birds understand the advantages that socializing brings and participate in this practice for their benefit. Ravens are monogamous, and some mate for life. This helps ensure healthy offspring and guarantees the success of the next generation. In addition, they socialize with other ravens and have the potential to form hierarchies among one another. Ravens make great pets for this reason, too. They are able to develop deep bonds with others and some people believe they can sense emotions on a deep level.

How We Gauge Their Intelligence

Raven eating carrion

Ravens have an impressive lifespan and some can live up to 15 years in the wild.

©Raven eating carrion/

In a study done by the Swedish Research Council, it was found that ravens have the aptitude to plan for the future as well as use tools to complete tasks. The two researchers who authored this study, Kabadayi and Osvath, observed that ravens have the ability to store items that may be useful in the future, despite their meaninglessness in the present. Trials were run where small items would be offered to ravens, and some of them could be exchanged for treats later on. The ravens quickly caught on to the utility of the particular items and began storing them for future use. Researchers repeated this experiment several times and waited for different intervals of time to test the ravens’ memory. It was evident they could retain this information for several hours after instruction.

During a separate experiment, ravens were again given different items that were capable of opening an “apparatus” that contained a reward. In these cases, the reward offered by the apparatus was better than the immediate reward the ravens could choose. However, the better reward would be slightly delayed, and the lesser reward could be enjoyed instantly. Ravens were able to exhibit patience on a certain level and preferred to wait for the better reward up to a certain threshold. The greater the delay, the less inclined the ravens would be to wait. The behavior displayed throughout the trials was on par with apes, which is a surprising revelation. In fact, ravens outperformed apes on some levels, and “they perform better than 4-year-old children in a comparable set-up.”

Animals That Ravens Are Smarter Than

Mother Raven Feeding Her Chicks

Ravens are very social animals and have the ability to communicate with one another.

©J.Copenheaver Photography/

If this information is a bit surprising to you, it’s okay. The incredible intelligence of ravens is not common knowledge as of now, and research is still being done to test the limits of their cognition. You may be wondering which animals ravens are smarter than. However, a better question to ask is “Which animals are smarter than ravens?” as this is a much smaller pool. Currently, ravens rank in the top ten animals with the greatest capacity for critical thinking. However, among these ranks, it’s difficult to discern exactly which animal is more gifted than another. Much of it comes down to their specific talents, and each animal seems to be gifted in a different way. Despite this, you can rest assured ravens are among the top contenders.

In some of the trials discussed above, ravens were able to outsmart primates. However this is not always the case, and it is currently accepted that chimpanzees and orangutans generally have a better ability to reason than ravens. In addition, dolphins and elephants rank slightly above ravens. Other corvids, like crows, are on par with the intelligence of ravens. Animals like pigs, rats, and pigeons also score very highly. For a more detailed look at the smartest animals in the world, read more in our detailed guide here.

Final Thoughts

The next time someone uses the term”bird brain,” as an insult, they may want to think again! These birds are some of the smartest on the planet and have proven their abilities over countless trials. Ravens have an innate intelligence, and as time passes, researchers learn more about their incredible potential. We can safely assume that with each passing year, even more impressive discoveries will be made. Be sure to keep your eyes on the news for updates regarding this phenomenon, as institutions such as the University of Vienna and Case Western Reserve University seem to have their finger on the pulse.

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About the Author

Alanna is a writer at A-Z Animals primarily covering insects, animals, and travel. In addition to writing, she spends her time tutoring English and exploring the east end of Long Island. Prior to receiving her Bachelor's in Economics from Stony Brook University, Alanna spent much of her time studying entomology and insect biology.

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