As regular CFZ-watchers will know, for some time Corinna has been doing a column for Animals & Men and a regular segment on On The Track... particularly about out-of-place birds and rare vagrants. There seem to be more and more bird stories from all over the world hitting the news these days so, to make room for them all - and to give them all equal and worthy coverage - she has set up this new blog to cover all things feathery and Fortean.

Sunday, 20 November 2016

Birds are more like ‘feathered apes’ than ‘bird brains’

For centuries scientists dismissed birds as dumb based on physical differences in their brains. How wrong we were. 

Saturday 5 November 2016 09.53 GMT Last modified on Monday 7 November 2016 15.34 GMT 

When Jane Goodall observed chimpanzees making tools in 1960, humans lost their self-aggrandizing status as the world’s only tool makers. Now scientists are beginning to realise there may be much more ‘intelligent life’ in the universe than previously thought, but it’s just here: on our planet. Since Goodall’s discovery, researchers have found numerous other mammals displaying high levels of intelligence, including the great apes, elephants, dolphins, orcas and many canine species. But only in the last couple decades has scientists’ attention turned to intelligence in non-mammals, including birds. 

“Studies of avian intelligence have been hampered by the old fashioned idea that birds are stupid, and not worth considering in terms of intelligence,” said Nathan Emery, author of the new book, Bird Brain: An Exploration of Avian Intelligence and senior lecturer at Queen Mary: University of London. 

An in-depth look at recent research and fascinating lab experiments, the book published by Ivy Press overturns any notion that birds are somehow dumb. Instead, it argues with an overwhelming amount of evidence that a number of bird species should be considered more as “feathered apes.” 

The idea that birds are unintelligent was initially proposed by looking at the brains of birds. Birds lack a cerebral cortex, which allowed scientists for decades to assume they were incapable of any higher thinking. However, researchers now know that a different part of the bird brain – the pallium – has evolved to do many of the same tasks as the cerebral cortex.
“Avian and mammalian brains seem to be functioning the same way, but interestingly their hardware is completely different,” said Emery, who noted that bird brains generally have shorter connections between specific parts of their brains than mammals. 

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