Ravens ‘point to’ objects to attract each other’s attention in a similar way to humans, research has discovered.
Until now, it was thought the only animals which communicate this way were apes.
But a study by German and Austrian experts revealed ravens to be far more intelligent than previously thought.
The birds, which belong to the corvid family with crows and magpies, made signals using their beaks as if they were hands. The experts likened this to the way very young children point and hold up objects as a way of saying ‘look here’ or ‘take this’.
The gestures were mainly between ravens of the opposite sex and helped them become closer. The ravens that attracted a potential mate using them often ended up ‘sharing’ the object with their friend.
The study’s author, Dr Simone Pika, of the Max Planck Institute in Berlin, said it was the first evidence ravens use gestures ‘to test the interest of a potential partner or to strengthen an already existing bond’.
Dr Pika added: 'These results provide the first evidence that ravens also use so called deictic gestures in order to test the interest of a potential partner or to strengthen an already existing bond.
'We observed that ravens use their beaks similar to hands to show and offer objects such as moss, stones and twigs.
'These distinct gestures were predominantly aimed at partners of the opposite sex and resulted in frequent orientation of recipients to the object and the signallers.
'Subsequently, the ravens interacted with each other, for example, by example billing or joint manipulation of the object.'
He said: 'Their scores on various intelligence tests are similarly high than those of great apes.
'Ravens in particular can be characterised by complex intra-pair communication, relatively long-time periods to form bonds and a relatively high degree of cooperation between partners.
'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.'