Go Ahead, Call Me A Bird Brain


This news is straight out of Vanderbilt University in my home state of Tennessee.

It has long been a mystery as to why birds were comparitvely as smart, or smarter than other animals, including primates, considering the size of their brains. We are all aware that bird brains are noticeably smaller than other creatures assumed to have measurable intelligence. Probably something to do with their smaller heads, sorry I could’t help myself 🙂

Well they have found that bird brains have considerably more neurons in the forebrain area (which is the area intelligence emminates from) than previously assumed. I’m going to copy/paste a sizable portion of the story:

“We found that birds, especially songbirds and parrots, have surprisingly large numbers of neurons in their pallium: the part of the brain that corresponds to the cerebral cortex, which supports higher cognition functions such as planning for the future or finding patterns. That explains why they exhibit levels of cognition at least as complex as primates,” said Herculano-Houzel, who recently joined the Vanderbilt psychology department.

That is possible because the neurons in avian brains are much smaller and more densely packed than those in mammalian brains, the study found. Parrot and songbird brains, for example, contain about twice as many neurons as primate brains of the same mass and two to four times as many neurons as equivalent rodent brains.

Not only are neurons packed into the brains of parrots and crows at a much higher density than in primate brains, but the proportion of neurons in the forebrain is also significantly higher, the study found.

“In designing brains, nature has two parameters it can play with: the size and number of neurons and the distribution of neurons across different brain centers,” said Herculano-Houzel, “and in birds we find that nature has used both of them.”

Although she acknowledges that the relationship between intelligence and neuron count has not yet been firmly established, Herculano-Houzel and her colleagues argue that avian brains with the same or greater forebrain neuron counts than primates with much larger brains can potentially provide the birds with much higher “cognitive power” per pound than mammals.” /end quote.

Fascinating stuff. This helps us bridge that gap of knowledge we had been lacking in the puzzle of why birds seemed so smart compared to brain size. I love it when science comes to the rescue. So yeah, I have my bird brain moments, and am proud of it!