Now really how smart are birds?

In my April blog entry, I mentioned the incredible discoveries that are taking place in understanding the intelligence of birds. That blog mentioned the recent recognition about how the number of neurons in the forebrain of birds may explain the surprising cognitive abilities demonstrated by the avian species despite their small brain size.

While touring a local Barnes & Noble store, recently, I ran across a very interesting New York Times Bestseller by Jennifer Ackerman entitled “The Genius of Birds”. Her entertaining analysis of bird brain capacities goes far beyond just a counting of neurons. The long time knock on birds being stupid is a view that “…is a gone goose” in her mind. “In the past two decades or so, from fields and laboratories around the world have flowed examples of bird species capable of mental feats comparable to those found in primates.”

She explains her view by pointing out that: “There’s a kind of bird that creates colorful designs out of berries, bits of glass, and blossoms to attract females, and another kind that hides up to thirty-three thousand seeds scattered over dozens of square miles and remembers where it put them months later. There’s a species that solves a classic puzzle at nearly the same pace as a five-year-old child, and one that’s an expert at picking locks. There are birds that can count and do simple math, make their own tools, move to the beat of music, comprehend basic principles of physics, remember the past, and plan for the future.”

She defines “genius”, in the book, as being aware of what one is doing, having the ability to make sense of things of surroundings, and being able to solve problems. A special brilliance, she notes, is the ability of certain birds to deal with changes in the environment, much of which is due to the human involvement. She refers to an Audubon report that holds that half of all the bird species of North American are likely to be extinct because they cannot adapt to the rapid pace of change on the planet. Humans are “an evolutionary force selecting for a certain kind of bird and bird intelligence.”

It is interesting how the study of birds leads not only to a way to understand how the bird brain works but also how the human condition may be affecting bird life, good and bad!