Social learning is a powerful mechanism of information acquisition and can be found in various species. According to the type of information transmitted, animals may change their motivation to perform actions, shift their perception/attention to relevant stimuli, associate other individuals' behaviours with particular stimuli/events or learn to perform ‘novel’ behaviours. The latter is referred to as imitation and has been considered a cognitively demanding mechanism necessary for high-fidelity copying, which may or may not occur in nonhuman animals. We tested the ability of 20 juvenile ravens to imitate an action demonstrated by a human experimenter. Birds of two test groups could observe a familiar human executing one of two opening techniques at an artificial fruit apparatus (horizontal or vertical hand movements directed towards the same location), whereas birds of a control group observed the human touching but not opening the apparatus. Ravens of both test groups tended to use the same direction of movements as observed, when they opened the apparatus themselves with their beak. Comparison with the control group revealed that ravens had a predisposition to manipulate the apparatus by pecking. Hence, observers of vertical hand movements most likely strengthened their initial preference for executing peck movements towards an item enclosing food, whereas observers of horizontal hand movements started to apply beak/head movements that hardly occur during foraging and are ‘novel’ to this context. Juvenile ravens are thus capable of imitating simple motor actions, even though they may use a different body part to execute the behaviours than human demonstrators.

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Animal Behaviour
Department of Biology

Loretto, M.-C. (Matthias-Claudio), Schuster, R. (Richard), Federspiel, I.G. (Ira G.), Heinrich, B. (Bernd), & Bugnyar, T. (Thomas). (2020). Contextual imitation in juvenile common ravens, Corvus corax. Animal Behaviour, 163, 127–134. doi:10.1016/j.anbehav.2020.03.007