We’re inclined to think that gestures are reserved to species which at least possess some kind of articulated limbs. However, scientists have shown that wild ravens purposefully gesture, making it the first time this type of be­hav­ior has been ob­served in the wild ex­cept in the clos­est rel­a­tives of hu­mans, primates.

A male raven showing off an object in his beak to his peers. "Hey raven-lady, look at my thing! Here's some stuff, wanna touch it?" (c) Thomas Bugnyar

A male raven showing off an object in his beak to his peers. "Hey raven-lady, look at my thing! Here's some stuff, wanna touch it?" (c) Thomas Bugnyar

Sure, you might argue that you’ve seen your dog maybe come out at you and move or touch you with its snot to show you a certiain direction, most likely where you keep your food. Researchers claim, however, that these aren’t naturally developed gestures, instead they’ve been infused by training.

In the new study, Si­mone Pi­ka of the Max Planck In­sti­tute for Or­nith­ol­o­gy in Mu­nich, Ger­ma­ny, and Thom­as Bugn­yar of the Uni­vers­ity of Vi­en­na ob­served wild rav­ens in the Cum­ber­land Wild Park in Grü­nau, Aus­tria. What they observed amazed them greatly.

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The ravens would use their beaks in the manner a human uses its hands to show and of­fer ob­jects such as moss, stones and twigs. Like all super-efforts on Earth, these gestures were directed towards the opposite sex. As if gesturing wasn’t enough, the ravens would sometime interact with each other using the object, as the researchers could observe the ravens touching or clasping their bills together, or by manipulating the item together.

“Most exciting is how a species, which does not represent the prototype of a ‘gesturer’ because it has wings instead of hands, a strong beak and can fly, makes use of very sophisticated nonvocal signals,” Pika told LiveScience.

Ravens, and their close relatives, crows and magpies, have been found to be of extreme intelligence for a bird, some actually rivaling great apes in tests, and rav­en mat­ing pairs show rel­a­tively com­plex com­mu­nica­t­ion and high coop­era­t­ion. The later part is of severe importance since further study of the raven, correlated with other data, might help decipher the origin of gesture in human beings.

“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 researchers’ findings were published in the latest issue of the journal Nature Communications.

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