A hundred years ago, a revered human anatomist
declared that birds could not possibly be intelligent
because their brains were basically different from humans.
Birds were simple automatons, acting only on instinct.
Birds and most animals were beneath respect. This is still
taught in most biology textbooks.
Not. In February of 2005, as reported in the journal
Nature Neuroscience Review by The New York Times,
Science Times, February 1, 2005, page D1, in her remarkable
article "Minds of Their Own: Birds Gain Respect", Sandra
An international group of avian experts is issuing what
amounts to a manifesto. Nearly everything within anatomy
textbooks about the brains of birds is wrong they say.
The avian brain is as complex, flexible and inventive
as any mammalian brain. (This group represented a consortium
of 29 scientists from six countries who met for 7 years
to develop language reflecting new understanding of bird
and mammal brain anatomies.)
Birds are intelligent. It's official.
There are differing theories as to why, but it is understood
there is a bird way to create intelligence, much like
but different from the mammalian.
To be technical, it is now believed that the bird's cerebrum
is like that of the mammal. A large area of cell clusters
in the bird's cerebrum functions like the layers of flat
cells in mammals needed for cognitive behavior. Complex
behavior like tool making or vocalization comes from the
interaction between higher and lower regions of the brain
as in humans. (Ibid, page D1)
What about size? A bird's brain compared to a human is
very small, but then, so is a transistor. How smart are
they? We're still finding out. In her Times article, Blakeslee
reviews demonstrable scientific evidence, developed worldwide:
Crows (of the talented Corvid bird family, which includes
jays, ravens, jackdaws, magpies, as well as crows) are
gifted tool makers. They do not use a simple stick in
a hole for ants to crawl up. Using beak and feet they
fashion complex tools - hooks and barbs and spears of
barbed leave for reaching food. (Ibid, page D4)
They have also been known to carry tool kits with them,
and to carry duplicate spare tools because other birds
Writer Blakeslee continues:
Clark Nutcrackers (and others) are known for hiding thousands
of seeds and remembering their location, up to 6 months
later. Even the lowly pigeon, it is scientifically reported,
can memorize up to 725 different visual patterns and are
capable of deception. Magpies at an extremely early age
understand when an object disappears behind a screen,
it is still there.The Parrot family, like the Corvids,
is also gifted. Nascent research shows parrots can actually
converse with humans, invent syntax and teach other parrots
what they know. (Ibid, Page D4)
The concept of zero seems obvious to us, but according
to World Science (Special Report July 2, 2005)
it only came into widespread use in the Western world
in the 1600s. (India used it a thousand years earlier.)
Alex, a now famous 28 year old Gray parrot, recently began
without prompting, using the word "none" to
describe an absence of quantity, according to researchers
at Brandeis University in Waltham, Mass. Whether he understood
"none" is true zero is being tested. They think
he can and it occurred spontaneously.
Individual birds have personalities. Research now being
done at the Netherlands Institute of Ecology is investigating
personality types of wild birds; the importance of genes
of the personalities of wild birds; and the effect different
personalities have on their survival in hopes of tracking
whether the same forces behind the evolution of bird personalities
are at work in ourselves. (The New York Times,
Science Times, March 1, 2005, page D1, "Looking for
Personality in Birds, of All People." By Carl Zimmer.)
And on it goes clear, scientifically verifiable evidence
of thinking and feeling (sentient) non-human beings. Birds
in this case. Some, smarter than others.
Can we have caring concern?
|Stellar Jay in Shadow
Near Lake Tahoe, CA
Courtesy Dan and Stella Wolf
As great, dominant narcissists, humans use all living
things for their own disposal, now pushing countless bird
species and other creatures to extinction, helpless before
us.* In our time. Now. Can we ever intelligently limit
our predations and mayhem towards these "others",
as well as our own kind? If we did not know Stephen Hawking
was human, would we eat him??
The answer is unfortunate.
The Best of Love to All This Season.
God speed Noah's Ark.
-- Wild Birds for the 21st Century
Leakey, Richard and Roger Lewin. The Sixth Extinction:
Patterns of Life and the Future of Humankind. New
York: Doubleday, 1995.
Savage, Candace. Bird Brains: The Intelligence of Crows,
Ravens, Magpies and Jays. San Francisco: Sierra Club