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Airdate: Jul 17, 2017
Scientist: Candace Savage

Raven Language

Raven Language
Gurgles, knocks, the sound of bells... a car on the fritz?

Crows - Raven Language

Music; Ambience: raven calls

Sound like a cross between a car horn and clogged drain? All these gurgles and creaks may add up to a language for ravens. I'm Jim Metzner and this is the Pulse of the Planet. Candace Savage is the author of a book on crows and ravens.

Savage: They make knocking sounds, sounds like running water; sounds like the peeling of bells! The vocal repertoire of ravens is essentially open-ended. It's very interesting, though, that each individual raven has quite a restricted vocabulary. Perhaps as few as six calls, usually someplace in the order of a dozen different calls, an individual raven will make.

Candace Savage says that a pair of Swiss scientists, Peter Enggist and Ulee Pfister, have been studying the diversity of raven vocalizations.

Savage: They've taken a caged, captive raven and they've put it into the territory of a large number of mated pairs. So on Monday we're going to this pair and two months later we're going to another pair. Every pair of ravens has a different way of responding to this same situation, this intruder in their midst. In one pair, a female may respond with a honking call. And her mate will respond with a peeling call. In the next pair, the female may use the same honking call, but her mate will have a different call that he uses in response to her. In a third pair, the female might have yet another call, an entirely different call that she uses in response and her mate will have his own way of responding to her.

Pulse of the Planet is made possible in part by Virginia Tech, inventing the future through a hands-on approach to education and research. I'm Jim Metzner.