Wednesday, February 02, 2005

Bird's Brains not so Flighty

Another article that supports Yoko's reasoning behind budgies intelligence

Don't call them birdbrains.

Scientists are calling for major changes in our view of the avian brain to reflect a revolution in thinking. Evidence is mounting that birds are much smarter than people once thought. Consider:

Chickadees remember thousands of places where they've stashed seeds for the winter.

An African gray parrot named Alex not only pronounces human words, but can answer simple questions -- for instance, identifying an object on a tray as a cork.

New Caledonian crows fish food out of crevices with tools they have fashioned from all sorts of materials, from twigs to cardboard and leaves.

Male budgies imitate the songs of females they're trying to court. Although these birds mate for life, the male will cheat -- but only if the female is on her nest where she can't see, because if she catches him she'll rough him up.

And ravens squawk in dialects, with a complex social organization that allows them to gang up, like packs of wolves, to drive away predators or swipe food.

The old view of birds as airheads stemmed from the assumption that evolution was a steady progression toward ever more advanced and intelligent creatures -- from fish to amphibians, reptiles, birds, mammals and, finally, humans.

The brain, scientists believed, followed right along, adding features that permitted more complex behavior. For mammals, the crowning achievement was the neocortex -- six layers of gray, wrinkled matter in the front of the brain that govern such things as speech and abstract thought.

Since birds were thought to have no cortex, it was assumed that they operated mostly on instinct.

On closer inspection, the bird brain turned out to be far more sophisticated. Parts that seemed primitive had the same circuitry as the mammals' many-layered cortex, and served the same function.

``We're saying that the organization of the bird brain is very similar to that in humans,'' said Erich Jarvis, a neurobiologist at Duke University.

He said the new approach will help people understand that evolution created more than one way to generate complex behavior -- the mammal way and the bird way -- and that they are comparable.

``Birds don't have everything that humans do,'' he said, ``but they have a lot of things most mammals don't, like the ability to imitate human speech sounds.''

1 comment:

Yoko said...

This is very very interesting! They must redefine "birdbrain". Sometimes our feathered friends are much smarter than birdbrained people.