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Size Does Not Equal Intelligence

Two large crows stand near each other while on an outdoor table.

Are you still using birdbrain as an insult? If you are, it's probably time to retire that one.

Birds are more intelligent than we expected, and can do some pretty amazing things.

Scientists have found that parrots and crows can make and use tools, solve problems, and even recognize themselves in mirrors. Researchers have suggested that some birds are about as smart as primates, and have important cognitive abilities such as understanding cause and effect.

Doesn't the size of the birds' brains matter? A macaw parrot's brain is the size of a walnut shell, compared to a macaque monkey with a brain the size of a lemon. But size isn't all that matters; the number of neurons is equally important.

Researchers measured the brains of two dozen species of birds, from the small zebra finch to the six-foot-tall Emu. They found that song bird and parrot brains have twice as many neurons as primate brains, and four times as many neurons as rodent brains of the same mass.

Birds have more thinking power per ounce of brain matter than mammals. Songbirds and parrots also have especially large numbers of neurons in their pallium, the part of the brain that corresponds to the cerebral cortex in mammals. That's the part of the brain which involves planning and finding patterns.

Read More

Seweryn Olkowicz, et al. Birds have primate‑like numbers of neurons in the forebrain. PNAS, June 13, 2016 DOI: 10.1073/pnas.1517131113.

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