Study gives new meaning to the term ‘bird brain’ – Vanderbilt News

I’ve been close to a number of birds in my life, raising a pigeon and a bunch of canaries. I’ve never felt that birds are a simple creature, given their size. The amazing ability to learn and survive is astonishing. Consider the hummingbird, who knows how to migrate from snowfields in South America to the northern west coast. My pigeon would fly from window to window outside our house while I would walk through the house. It would fly alongside my wife’s van for 8 blocks as she left in the morning. To find out that we have been underestimating these animals ability to think is not really news. But it does open a new way of understanding their abilities.

The macaw has a brain the size of an unshelled walnut, while the macaque monkey has a brain about the size of a lemon. Nevertheless, the macaw has more neurons in its forebrain – the portion of the brain associated with intelligent behavior – than the macaque. That is one of the surprising results of the first study to systematically measure the number of neurons in the brains of more than two dozen species of birds ranging in size from the tiny zebra finch to the six-foot-tall emu, which found that they consistently have more neurons packed into their small brains than are stuffed into mammalian or even primate brains of the same mass. The study results were published online in a paper titled “Birds have primate-like numbers of neurons in the forebrain” in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences early edition on the week of June 13. David Salisbury reports. (Vanderbilt News)

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