Why Do Ravens Mimic Sounds? Explained

Published Categorized as Birds, Birdwatching
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We all know that the Raven, aka Corvus Corax, is one smart cookie. These birds can open containers, recognize human faces for years, and even make tools and store them for later use.

So, why do Ravens mimic sounds so much?

Mimicry is a very useful skill for a clever bird, and the Ravens are one of the cleverest. Mimicry can be used for communication, amusement, or even to confuse or manipulate other animals to do something that the Raven wants.

Some Ravens even talk, which should give you an idea about how serious they are about mimicry.

In this post, we’re going to take a closer look at why Ravens mimic sounds, and we’ll give you some solid examples of what this can accomplish in the wild.

These black birds are wily little masters of manipulation, so sit a spell, and we’ll tell you all about it!

Mimicry Comes In Very Handy For A Hungry Bird

While Ravens certainly use their mimicry to amuse themselves from time to time, it’s actually quite a practical skill when it comes to filling up their bellies.

Ravens can use it to copy the calls of other birds, for instance, to confuse them or lure them to another location.

They also use it to take advantage of larger animals, such as wolves (with whom they often hunt) and with humans, who often have no idea that they’re being outsmarted when they follow the large, amusing blackbird.

Let’s look at a few practical examples where this comes in handy, just so you can get a taste of what mimicry can really do.

1. Using Mimicry With Other Birds

One common use of mimicry is luring a protective male of another species away from its nest.

Ravens are omnivores and quite opportunistic eaters, so by imitating the calls of other birds, they can leave the nest unguarded or only attended by a nesting female and potentially gobble up the mom and her eggs!

Ravens will often do this in teams to ensure that the ‘nest raid’ is successful, and both coastal and inland species are prone to this sort of snack attack. The clever Ravens are actually good enough to fool the other birds in what is essentially ‘their own language.’

It’s pretty impressive, but it works on more than birds, as you’re about to see.

2. Manipulating Wolves For A Delicious Snack

Ravens have no problem snacking on dead animals, except perhaps for the occasional hide of a fallen animal that keeps the delicious innards from being a quick snack. Ravens and wolves already have a relationship in the wild; however, that helps to solve this problem nicely.

One common Raven ploy when a carcass is found that is hard to ‘crack’ is to mimic a wolf howl to get a little assistance. This will attract wolves, who will then find the carcass and quickly eat their fill, leaving the now-exposed innards ready for the taking.

This gets that pesky hide out of the way, and the wolves, appreciative of the free meal, will leave the Ravens alone and let them eat to their heart’s content.

If you think that this is just a chance encounter with the wolves, then think again – wolves and ravens often hunt together, and they even play together, with a bored Raven alighting nearby and tempting the wolf to try and catch them.

It’s a sight to see, but their mimicry goes even further – landing straight on our own doorstep!

3. With Humans, Mimicry Aids In Bonding Or Distraction

Ravens have sharp eyesight, and if a human is close to something that they want, such as a dining setup outside or a carefully-tended garden, they are not above trying to lure you away from their target.

This is usually done with playful antics, such as mimicking sounds that they know amuse us or even flying close and trying to get us to follow them while another Raven quietly comes in to make off with some of the coveted goods.

One area that is particularly interesting has to do with captive Ravens, who will often show off their mimicry and even learn to speak words as a way to be ‘part of the flock’ in the home.

Captive Ravens can be pretty impressive with this, imitating things on the TV or saying words that they know will shock you.

It’s just their way of bonding with you, although that doesn’t mean that a captive Raven won’t try to distract you to steal something shiny down the line. They know that their mimicry is a powerful tool, so they simply can’t help but take advantage and use it!

How Do Ravens Compare To Parrots In Mimicry And Intelligence?

When it comes to speaking, Parrots are in the lead, with about 1000 words to a Raven’s 100. Mimicking speech is much easier for parrots, while Ravens tend to do better mocking the cat with perfect meows or even doing an impressive imitation of your car alarm.

Don’t let the smaller vocabulary fool you, however, as most believe that the Raven is actually the smarter bird.

They’ve been known to reel in fisherman’s lines, for instance, to steal a snack from time to time, but intelligence testing has shown some even greater marvels where these birds are concerned.

Scientists have taught Ravens to put coins in machines for food, and in one test, they put food in a glass bottle that the Raven couldn’t easily break and left a piece of metal wire next to it.

The Raven, exhausting other methods to get at the food, would eventually pick up the wire and bend it to make a hook to retrieve the food from the bottle. This is significant because that’s an example of tool-making, and it’s not a one-off thing, as a Raven that makes a useful tool will usually hide it for later!

Parrots are smart, but if you ask a Raven, they’re likely to say that it’s ‘all talk and no action!’.

Final Thoughts

Ravens make different sounds to amuse themselves, to communicate, and also to distract or even manipulate other animals. It’s practical, intelligent, and also a very good reason why these ‘common’ birds really aren’t so common, after all.

So, the next time that you see one, be sure to keep a close eye on your sandwich and not investigate any sudden car alarms in the distance – or you might just lose your meal to a clever Raven!

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By Ravi Ganguly

Hi! My name is Ravi Ganguly, an avid bird lover and the founder of BirdAvid.com. Since my childhood days, I have developed a special interest in birds. I always feel enthusiastic whenever I talk or study about them. My goal is to share helpful bird-related content with other bird lovers worldwide. You can read more about me here.