“Birdbrain” May Be a Compliment: Complex Vocal Learning in Avian Species

Written by: Bethany Beekly

Editors: Christina Del Greco, William Dean, Olivia Pifer Alge, and Madeline Barron

…Then this ebony bird beguiling my sad fancy into smiling,
By the grave and stern decorum of the countenance it wore,
“Though thy crest be shorn and shaven, thou,” I said, “art sure no craven,
Ghastly grim and ancient Raven wandering from the Nightly shore—
Tell me what thy lordly name is on the Night’s Plutonian shore!”
            Quoth the Raven “Nevermore.”

While Poe’s raven is generally understood to be metaphorical, the premise of his famous tale is not outside the realm of possibility. Ravens belong to a family of birds called corvids (Latin Corvidae) which also includes other common urban birds such as crows and magpies. Corvids are among the most intelligent avian species studied to date. They also happen to be among the select families of birds capable of mimicking human speech!

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