måndag 24 november 2014

Beautiful ravens

Organizing old photos made me once again realize how beautiful ravens are - even when they are not in mid-air, wings spread. These photos are all from the first year, when the ravens were less than 6 months old. They look quite big, but compared to adult ravens the bodies are much more slender, beaks are thinner and pointier, and and mouths are still pink. The last picture is from the wild park in Grünau, Austria, where much of the wild raven research is done.


måndag 17 november 2014

Radio documentary

Last spring, Lotta Malmstedt from the Swedish National Radio, started working on her documentary on our raven research. Around a year ago, she did the last recordnings, and yesterday the 50 minute long documentary was sent on radio P1. Listen to it here!

fredag 7 november 2014

New grant from the Swedish Research Council!

Earlier this week, the Swedish Research Council announced the recievers of their International Career Grants, and Mathias turned out to be one of the twentyfour lucky researchers! 
His project "The social intelligence hypothesis and the episodic memory system – the role of memories in the social skills of cognitively complex animals" got funding for four years (starting 2015), which includes full-time employment for Mathias, one PhD-student and part-time employment for a research assistant.

The Career grant aims at developing young researchers both as scientists and leaders, in close collaboration with a foreign University - in this case Thomas Bugnyar's group at the Department of Cognitive Biology, University of Vienna.

The overarching purpose of the project is to investigate the role of memory systems, in particular episodic memory, in complex social life, and thereby provide new insights into the evolution of complex cognition.   

The focus will be on ravens as the University of Vienna and Lund University have the only research facilities for studying raven cognition. This enables the project to test effects of different parameters – such as sex, rank, age and population – in a statistically robust way, which is usually very difficult in raven cognition studies - and up to  20-40 raven subjects can be involved in each of the different studies! Chimpanzees will also be added to one of the set ups, as such comparisons are important in understanding the potential parallel evolution of the cognitive skills. 


torsdag 6 november 2014

Recap summer 2014

Lots of things have happened since my last blog post in May. Maybe the most important thing is that we extended the group with three new wildcaught raven chicks. They all come from nests nearby - the closest only 800 metres away.
Meet Kalle, Embla and Hilda!
Kalle, Embla and Hilda
Although the nests were so close in range, the age of the chicks differed widely. I had been observing the nests a few times per week ever since the females started sitting on the nests, but as many nests are quite deep, and also located high up it's difficult to get a glimpse of the chicks in order to determine their age. The youngest was barely 2 weeks old, and we named him Kalle, since he looked like Donald Duck (Kalle Anka in Swedish) when he first arrived.
The PhD students  - Ivo and Can- were busy all summer documenting the developmental stages of the young, which will later result in a paper on the cognitive development in raven chicks. At the moment all other ravens are also taking part in different studies on planning and physical cognition.

During summer, two new papers were published;  "The future of future-oriented cognition in non-humans: theory and the empirical case of the great apes" (Osvath & Martin-Ordas)
"Independent evolution of similar complex cognitive skills : the importance of embodieddegrees of freedom"(Osvath, Kabadayi & Jacobs)

Mathias also participated in the Social Brain Conference in Copenhagen, contributing with a poster on the contagious play study. The conference hosted several world leading experts on social cognition and its relation to the brain. The participants formed a mix of neurobiologists and animal cognition researchers - a fruitful combination.

After summer we welcomed a new member of the group - master student Russel Reiter. He will take several courses at the station, and most importantly write his master's thesis here on raven cognition.

The seminar room.

In mid October we had our yearly cleaning day of the station, and also the inauguration of the seminar room on the second floor - the "Hugin Hall". When the department of Cognitive Science moved from Kungshuset to the new LUX-house a lot of furniture was left behind - enough to furnish the station's lecture hall, so now we are ready for lectures, symposiums and courses!

The cosy corner.


torsdag 22 maj 2014

Two new publications on raven play!

In May's issue of Animal Behaviour and Cognition, we have contributed with no less than two papers - both on raven play.

"An exploration of Play Behaviours in Raven Nestlings" (Osvath, Osvath & Båth) is study of the nestlings from last year, where we analyzed almost 20 hours of nest activity - discovering that the chicks actually spent equal or more time playing in the nest than on maintenance behaviors and flight training.

"Sub-adult Ravens Sunchronize their play: A Case of Emotional Contagion" (Osvath & Sima) is a study on the sub-adult ravens which explored instances of contagious behaviors within the play domain.The results indicate emotional contagion: the birds engaged in all categories of play on a higher level under the condition where contagion was likely to occur. This type of contagion is thought of as a key phenomena in the development of advanced social cognition in humans. This is the first time ever it has been shown in birds.


Empty nest

In the end, the number of nestlings turned out to be four, and after weeks and weeks of feeding them in the nest it was finally time to fledge!

The first chick, presumably a female, fledged on May 15th and the second chick, which we think is a male, one day later.The last two nestlings seemed almost surprised, watching the comotion on the ground from above. But two days later, on May 18th,  they decided it was time to go.
After the incident last year when the unexperienced parents pulled out several tail feathers when trying to drag the first fledglings back to the nest, we feared that something similar would happen this year. But although a bit distressed when the chicks are too spread out in the aviary, Siden seems to have learnt from last year. Still, he sometimes tries to drag or pull his young to areas he consider"safe" - but all feathers are intact.

When Siden has a say, all four chicks sits safely in the dead old elder tree, which serves as a perfect playpen to new-fledged ravens.

onsdag 23 april 2014

The annual site visit

Since some years back, Mathias is lecturing on the course Ecology of behaviour/ethology given at Lund University's Biology department. As a part of the course, the students visit the raven facility to conduct an assignment "in the field". Usually the task is to establish the dominace hierarchy among the ravens, but as we have them separeted in three different aviaries during breeding season, there isn't much hierachy to observe. Instead the students were assigned to construct a so called ethogram, which, shortly put, is a behavioral catalogue of a species.

Photo: Can Kabadayi

fredag 11 april 2014

Tired and untidy

Being the parents of quintuplets - yes I saw FIVE beaks yesterday -  is a messy and exhausting business. As the chicks are sleeping soundly in the nest, the young parents clean up and rest for a minute. Soon the young will wake up again.

In the adjacent aviary Rickard and None is surveilling the sorroundings. A bit bored, since they are temporarilly separated from the other males to avoid conflicts during breeding season. Suddenly Rickard feels the urge to claim his territory by fluffing and vocalizing. Even I, who has seen this type of display thousands of times, is impressed.


torsdag 10 april 2014

Visitors from Turkey

Today we had long distance visitors from Turkey. Can's parents are staying in Sweden for a few days and the research station was one of their stops.
As usual None was keen on meeting some new people, and happily introduced herself to Can's father. Kindly enough they brought us some excellent Turkish delight, and fresh walnuts for the ravens. However, unlike all other crow birds I have met, the ravens are totally uninterested in nuts, even though you would think they should value them as fatty and nutritious.
Siden and Juno in the adjacent aviary didn't seem to mind the visitors much, and tomorrow I will tell you how many beaks I saw today....


måndag 7 april 2014

Little beaks

We are so curious about the number of chicks in the nest! Last year, four chicks hatched, but only three made it to grown up juveniles. The nest is shaped like a funnel, but it is already possible to see beaks while they are fed - with binoculars and from a distance. So I offer Siden different food, and then I run through the aviary complex and through the horses' enclosure to stand prepared when Juno lifts herself from her young. How many beaks did I see? At least four...! I think.


On TV 4 News

Some weeks ago, TV 4 news also reported on the raven research. See it HERE.

torsdag 3 april 2014

Baby food

The raven parents seem to prefer protein for their newborns. Usually ravens would go for the fatty parts of any meat, but now Siden chooses the fleshy bits for his young.
As we don't know exactly how a perfect diet would look like, we try to provide the raven parents with as various food as possible to choose from. So far, the young might have tasted beef, chicken, turkey, salmon, egg, cheese, rice and bread. We also try to sneak in vitamins and calcium by offering it in a mixture of meat already chopped up in baby portions.

But Siden is very picky, and tastes everything himself before he brings it to the nest.

He is also very thorough when he caches the food. It has to be protected from swarms of hungry tree sparrows during the day, and rats during the night. The salmon was hid in a corner with a massive piece if wood dragged over, and placed on top of it.

I knew I jeopardized the hideout when I went over to take a photo - crow birds are very sensitive to others paying attention to their caches - and as soon as Siden saw me closing in on the cached salmon, he rushed over to find a better spot.

The better spot turned out to be under a pair of woollen gloves that Siden stole from Can sometime during winter, and I had to make sure to take the photo by stealth this time.

The capable father.


tisdag 1 april 2014

Tiny pieces of meat

If my calculations were correct, today would be the first possibe day of egg-hatching, so I served the ravens breakfast with some expecations. To my disappointment, this morning was no different from other mornings, though. Siden came down, ate some and then started to cache the food.

When I checked in on them before nightfall, two wild ravens lifted from the ground next to the aviaries, and all our ravens were on their toes. Even Juno was out from the nest, so I assumed she helped chasing the indruders away. As it was many days since she was down, I ran to fetch her an evening snack, but when I came back she was already back on the nest. Siden, happily grabbed some meat, and to my delight he immediately started to tear away, tiny, tiny pieces of meat. That could only mean one thing! There must be a chick in the nest! I waited impatiently for him to finish, and then he flew to the nest, made the subtle feeding grunts I recognised from last year which made Juno move a bit, so he could feed the little one - I even heard the faint chirps!


onsdag 12 mars 2014

måndag 10 mars 2014


Today Juno has started to sit on the nest, and she only comes down to feed or to stretch her wings. I guess that means that she has started to lay her eggs. I takes several days to lay the eggs, and when that is finished, I expect that she will stay on the nest. Last year she did'nt come down to feed for the first time on the 22nd of March, so this year they seem to be at least one week earlier. But judging from her open beak it is already warm in the nest - last year we still had a thick layer of snow on the 22nd!

Juno staying in the nest means that Siden's long period of hard work starts. First, he has to feed his female during the incubation, and then he has to feed her AND the hungry chicks for several weeks. When they are big enough to be left alone in the nest, Juno will help with the feeding...but that is weeks away.

As Juno was in the nest I didn't expect them to be interested in anymore building material, but as I was brushing one of the horses just beside the aviary, I just propped some of the abundant winter coat through the mesh, and ZOOM! In a blink Juno was there to collect the horse hair.


onsdag 5 mars 2014

Experienced nest builders

It is not only Siden and Juno who learned from building a nest last year. Also I know what twigs are preferred and in what order.
So when I started to manufacture the pieces of hemp strings they used for lining last year, Siden and Juno was thrilled - clinging to to the fence, their bodies screaming  - hurry up!


torsdag 27 februari 2014

Two weeks early

The winter in southern Sweden has been unusually mild, and the last week has been nicely spring-like. Siden and Juno has already courted each other for a few weeks, and we have them separated from the rest of group in one of the aviaries.
When we came home from Bavaria last week they started on their nest - same spot as last year- but it took them several days to find the perfekt starting-twigs. They tried out at least 40-50 twigs before the base of nest finally started to form.
Last year they didn't start building until mid March, and on March 13th it looked like this!


Visiting Austria and Bavaria

Last week we visited Auguste von Bayern in Bavaria, and also made a quick stop at Haidlhof for a chat with Thomas Bugnyar. Mathias was discussiong a joint book project with them both, and at Auguste's place we also met Ivo, who is doing planning experiments on the New Caledonian crows.
Unfortunately I completely forgot to take photos, but Mathias shot some pictures of these lovely little black creatures...hand raised baby Caledonians..!


måndag 24 februari 2014

Research on the news

Last week, the news report made by the local tv-news some time ago appeared on tv. Watch it HERE.

torsdag 23 januari 2014

Smelly clams

We get most of our raven food from the local ICA Kvantum grocery store. As you can guess, we are very grateful for this, as the ravens eat quite a lot - most of it meat. As the food that we get is past due date, it sometimes gets extremely smelly - especially fish and seafood. And even if the ravens don't mind, we still have to handle it...or get it stuffed into our pockets or into our collars. It has happened more than once that we have sensed a weird odour half a day...before finding a piece of rotten liver, neatly hidden in one of our pockets. This is why fish and seafood is best given frozen, or when the temperature is below zero.
Especially clams is a rare dish on the raven meny, so when we got several packages of clams last week, we were quite happy! Not only because it diversifies the diet - it is also enriching. The ravens seem to enjoy the shape and size as much - or even more - as the content. A bit like a Kinder egg.
Best to bring my clam where ever I go.

tisdag 21 januari 2014

Play in the snow

Finally, winter is here, the ravens seem to think. With their beaks buried deep into the snow, rolling around or jumping in the air to catch snowballs, they just seem to have a great time.