Parrots and ravens are among the most talented talking bird species in the world. Both can talk by mimicking words and phrases, though ravens are only likely to do this if they’re in close contact with humans. This could be through living in zoos and wildlife centers that people frequently visit, for example.
Parrots are revered as the best talking birds, and that’s because they are able to amass extensive vocabularies. African grey parrots can say up to 1,000 words, whereas ravens can say around 100 words on average. Ravens are better at mimicking sounds, such as car alarms and animal calls. Like parrots, they can produce various noises due to the syrinx, which is their vocal organ.
Despite the fact parrots and ravens are birds, they’re from different families. Parrots belong to the order Psittaciformes, while ravens are corvids. That being said, their speaking abilities aren’t too dissimilar, and they’re among the most intelligent birds – with corvids marginally ahead in terms of overall smartness.
Why Can Ravens and Parrots Talk?
Ravens and parrots can talk because their brains are wired similar to ours. That’s because both birds have a cerebellum and cortex. The cerebellum controls voluntary motor functions, while the cortex is responsible for:
- Sensory information
Both parts work in tandem and are connected via a neural circuit known as the medial spiriform. This neural highway transfers information between the cerebellum and cortex and enables both bird species to:
- Talk like us
- Mimic words, phrases, and sounds
Even though ravens and parrots don’t have teeth, lips, and vocal cords – all of which enable humans to speak – they have a syrinx instead of a larynx (the human voice box).
This fluid-filled organ is buried deep in their chests at the base of the trachea and is composed of two parts that parrots and ravens can change the shape of. They can also move each part independently to create sound. By pushing air through the syrinx, the muscles and valves vibrate and produce noise.
Current Biology also found that birds change the frequency of the sound they produce using their tongues. This is called “lingual articulation.” Alongside tongues, parrots and ravens use their beaks to shape the sounds they make.
While most birds have a syrinx, it differs between them. This means that parrots and ravens likely have slightly different organs. Similarly, both species mimic sounds they hear rather than actually talking. The sounds sound very similar to what we recognize, which is why we believe ravens and humans can “talk.”
Are Ravens Related to Parrots?
While ravens and parrots are both bird species, they belong to different bird orders consisting of:
- Corvidae: ravens, crows, rooks, jackdaws, treepies, jays, magpies, choughs, and nutcrackers.
- Psittaciformes: containing 398 species, including the Psittacoidea (true parrots), the Strigopoidea (New Zealand parrots), and the Cacatuoidea (cockatoos).
They also look noticeably different, as ravens have longer, straighter beaks that ultimately cause them to create different sounds to parrots, which have shorter, hookbill-shaped beaks.
Can Ravens Talk Like Parrots?
Parrots are better known as the more advanced talking birds, but ravens can actually be taught to speak even better than parrots. Ravens aren’t commonly kept in captivity because of various laws, but ravens that spend a lot of time around humans – in zoos and wildlife centers, for example – can develop a repertoire of approximately 100 words or more. Wild ravens are less likely to speak as well as parrots and captive ravens, however.
Similarly, not all ravens and parrots are hard-wired to speak. While many can, it all depends on their personalities and how they interact with humans. Since parrots are more commonly kept as captive pets, they’re naturally better at talking than most ravens.
As well as their impressive talking abilities, ravens have a talent for mimicking sounds, such as:
- Animal calls
- Dog barks
- Car alarms
They also make several different calls that vary from low, gurgling croaks to harsh sounds. The most common sound ravens make is a gurgling croak that rises in pitch from the back of the throat. This sound can be heard for over a mile, and they produce it in response to other ravens they hear.
These aren’t the only sounds ravens make. They also produce deep, rasping calls when their nests are disturbed and short, shrill, repetitive calls when chasing predators away. They also make the following noises:
- Deep rasping calls
- Rapid knocking noises
- Bill snapping
While ravens talk well, their ability to produce varied sounds is more advanced. African grey parrots mimic up to 1,000 words, which is far more than any other bird species, including ravens. The following parrots also have large vocabularies consisting of the following word counts:
- Budgies: 1,000 words
- Amazon parrots: 300 words
- Indian ring parakeets: 250 words
- Cockatiels: 250 words
When compared, a raven and parrot’s talking abilities aren’t too dissimilar – though parrots are renowned for their speaking skills for good reason.
Are Ravens or Parrots Smarter?
Animal intelligence is difficult to measure as there’s no standard IQ test for creatures to take. The only effective way to compare intelligence levels is to give parrots and ravens the same task to complete and observe and measure the results.
According to Discover Magazine, a researcher from the University of Vienna challenged a group of parrots and corvids to solve various puzzles in order to earn food placed in a plastic box. They could do this in four ways:
- Pulling string tied to the food
- Opening a window and put their head in the box
- Pushing the food off with a stick
- Knocking the food off by rolling a marble down a chute
Each time the birds learned one of the tricks, the researcher closed this method off, forcing them to find a different way to get hold of the food. The study found that the corvids were slower to pick up the different solutions as they explored the plastic box more tentatively and used their beaks as tools. On the other hand, parrots discovered the solutions more quickly, but they were much more aggressive in their approach.
This doesn’t prove that either species is more intelligent – it shows that they approach tasks differently. Both achieved similar success in the task.
Of all parrot species, the African grey parrot is considered the most intelligent due to its advanced talking abilities. However, ravens are best known as one of the most intelligent bird species, alongside crows. According to the journal Science, ravens can pre-plan tasks and exert self-control, performing at least as well as great apes and small children. Ravens are also able to:
- Imitate human speech
- Use hand gestures
- Show empathy towards each other
- Adapt to different environments
- Live in teenage gangs
That being said, no parrot has been able to pass the mirror test. Neither have ravens, but the Eurasian magpie, which is part of the corvid family the same as ravens, is the only non-mammal to have passed. Not even primates have been able to achieve this.
While ravens rarely talk better than parrots, it’s not entirely unfeasible when ravens have close access to humans. Both species can produce sounds that we can recognize, making them some of the world’s most intelligent animals.