PURIM Unmasked

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By: Efraim Harari

This might come as quite a surprise to some people, but many scientists think that corvids, the family of birds that includes crows, ravens, rooks, magpies, and jays, are not only the most intelligent birds, but perhaps the smartest animals on earth!

According to various tests and experiments, crows, followed by ravens, are arguably the most intelligent birds of all. This intelligence rating is based on their problem-solving skills, as well as their ability to make tools for themselves, to remember human faces, and to consider future events when making decisions.

One experiment involved a wild crow which had learned to use individual props during three months of captivity. The crow successfully managed to work out the order in which to use them to complete an eight-stage puzzle in less than three minutes!

But you do not need to be a scientist to witness the intelligence of crows. Their ingenuity can be seen by observing them in their natural environments. For example, in the Pacific Islands, New Caledonian crows can be seen fashioning tools, such as prodding sticks and hooks, which they use to take out insects from logs and branches. In Japan, carrion crows drop hard-to-crush nuts on the roadway at intersections so that moving traffic will break them open. And in Israel, hooded crows actually use bread crumbs to catch fish!


Ravens are cooperative hunters that often work in pairs: one raven distracts a nesting bird, and the other snatches the bird’s egg.

The Intelligence
of the Raven

Ravens are just about equally as intelligent as crows. They are known
for their abilities to understand
cause and effect and to solve complicated problems.

In one experiment set up by scientists, ravens had to get a hanging piece of food by pulling up a bit of the string, anchoring it with their claws, and repeating until the food was in reach. Most of the ravens got the food on
the first try.

In captivity, ravens can learn to talk better than some parrots. They also mimic other noises, like car engines, phone rings, and the calls of other animals. For example, ravens have been known to mimic wolves to attract them to carcasses that the ravens aren’t capable of breaking open by themselves. When the wolf is done eating, the ravens grab the leftovers.

Ravens also have a very sophisticated way of communicating with other ravens without vocal signals. Studies have shown that ravens point with their beaks to indicate an object to another bird, just as we do with our fingers. They also hold up an object to get another bird’s attention. Other than primates, no other animal has been observed communicating by using gestures.

TO GET A TREAT suspended on a stringtied to the perch, a raven has to followa precise sequence of steps – reach down and grasp the string, pull up on it, put the pulled-up string on the perch, step on it with enough pressure to hold it there, let go of the string, and repeat the process. Some mature ravens studied the situation for several minutes and then performed the entire procedure on their first try – a sign they used logic.

Torah Connection

Just as we can learn from the positive qualities of an animal, we can also learn from observing an animal’s negative character traits.

The first time the raven is mentioned in the Torah is with Noach in the tevah. Forty days after the waters of the Mabulhad subsided enough for the mountaintops to be visible, Noach opened the skylight of the tevahand sent out the raven, one of the most intelligent birds, to see what was happening in the world. As the Torah tells us, And he [Noach] sent forth a raven, which went to and fro, until the waters were dried up from the earth (Bereishit8:7). 

However, the raven did not carry out its mission. It stubbornly refused to leave the vicinity of the tevah, instead simply circling around it. Seven days later, Noach sent out the dove instead, and the dove did exactly as Noach wanted.

Clearly the raven is not a creature that can be trusted to stay faithful to a mission.