Parrots and ravens are among the world’s most talented talking bird species.
Both birds talk by mimicking words and phrases, although ravens are only likely to do so if they’re in close contact with humans. This could be through living in zoos and wildlife centers.
Parrots are revered as the best talking birds because they can amass extensive vocabularies. Some African greys can say up to 1,000 words, while ravens can say around 100 words.
Ravens are better at mimicking sounds like car alarms, beeps from microwave ovens, and animal calls. They can produce noises due to the syrinx (the vocal organ of birds).
Even though parrots and ravens are birds, they’re from entirely different families. Parrots belong to the order Psittaciformes, while ravens are corvids.
Their speaking abilities aren’t 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 similarly to humans.
Both birds have a cerebellum and cortex; the cerebellum controls voluntary motor functions, while the cortex is responsible for the following:
- Sensory information.
Both parts of the brain work in tandem and are connected via a neural circuit called the medial spiriform. This neural highway transfers information between the cerebellum and cortex, enabling them to:
- Talk like humans.
- Mimic words, phrases, and sounds.
Even though ravens and parrots don’t have teeth, lips, or vocal cords – all of which enable humans to speak – they have a syrinx rather than a larynx (human voice box).
This fluid-filled organ is buried deep in their chests at the base of the trachea and is composed of 2 parts that parrots and ravens can change the shape of.
They can also move each part independently to create sound. The muscles and valves vibrate and produce noise by pushing air through the syrinx.
Current Biology found that birds change the frequency of the sound they produce using their tongues, called “lingual articulation.” Alongside tongues, parrots and ravens use their beaks to shape sounds.
While most birds have a syrinx, it differs between birds, which means parrots and ravens have slightly different organs. Similarly, both species mimic the sounds they hear.
They sound similar to what we recognize, so we believe ravens and humans can talk.
Are Ravens Related to Parrots?
While ravens and parrots are both bird species, they belong to different orders consisting of:
- Corvidae: Ravens, crows, rooks, jackdaws, treepies, jays, magpies, choughs, and nutcrackers.
- Psittaciformes: Contains 400+ species, including the Psittacoidea (true parrots), the Strigopoidea (New Zealand parrots), and the Cacatuoidea (cockatoos).
They look noticeably different, as ravens have longer, straighter beaks that enable them to make different sounds to parrots with shorter, hookbill-shaped beaks.
Can Ravens Talk Like Parrots?
Parrots are more advanced talking birds, but ravens can be taught to speak even better than parrots.
Ravens aren’t commonly kept in captivity due to various laws. Still, those that spend a lot of time around humans – in zoos and wildlife centers – can develop a repertoire of 100 words or more.
Wild ravens are unlikely to speak to the same level as parrots and captive ravens.
Similarly, not all ravens and parrots are hardwired to speak. While many can, it depends on their personalities and interactions 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 make several calls ranging from low, gurgling croaks to harsher sounds.
Ravens make 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.
Ravens 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 can mimic up to 1,000 words, more than any other bird species, including ravens.
The following parrots also have extensive vocabularies that can reach the following word counts:
- Budgies: 1,000 words.
- Amazon parrots: 300 words.
- Indian ring parakeets: 250 words.
- Cockatiels: 250 words.
When compared, ravens’ and parrots’ talking abilities aren’t dissimilar.
Are Ravens or Parrots Smarter?
Animal intelligence is difficult to measure and compare because there’s no standard IQ test.
The only effective way to compare intelligence levels is to give parrots and ravens the same task to complete and observe, measuring the results.
According to Discover Magazine, a researcher from the University of Vienna challenged a group of parrots and corvids to solve puzzles to earn food in a plastic box. They could do this in 4 ways:
- Pulling string tied to the food.
- Opening a window and putting 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 more aggressive in their approach.
This doesn’t prove that either species is more intelligent. Rather, it shows they approach tasks differently, yet both had similar success levels.
Due to its advanced talking abilities, the African grey parrot is considered the most intelligent parrot species. However, ravens are among 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 do the following:
- Imitate human speech.
- Use hand gestures.
- Show empathy toward each other.
- Adapt to different environments.
- Live in teenage gangs.
No parrot has been able to pass the mirror test. Neither have ravens, but the Eurasian magpie (part of the corvid family) is the only non-mammal to have passed it. Not even primates have been successful.
While ravens rarely talk better than parrots, it’s not unfeasible when ravens have close access to humans. Both species produce sounds we recognize, so they’re among the world’s most intelligent animals.