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Bird Brains? Apparently Not!

If you have bird feeders in your garden and are visited by squirrels then you will be familiar with the ingenuity of your bushy tailed interlopers. Squirrels are extremely adept at accessing food and can learn to overcome many of the obstacles that bird lovers place in their way. Many gardener are forced to invest in baffles and a to foil them so that the bird seed is reserved for their feathered friends.

The Brains in the Garden

When you observe the behaviour of squirrels it is easy to think that they are the brains in the garden and that the birds are, well, bird brains! But the latest research suggests that birds could be a lot cleverer than we imagine despite their diminutive brains.

Research into birds’ brains has been conducted at the University of Prague. Birds have always been something of an enigma. They have very small brains and yet their impressive cognitive abilities have long been recognised. 28 species have now been studied and the research has revealed that birds’ brains feature densely packed neurons. It is this phenomenon which gives birds their
surprisingly high intelligence.

Monkey Brains

A Macaw’s brain is the size of a walnut and yet the research has shown that it features as many neurons as a macaque’s brain which is the size of a lemon. A Cockatoo’s brain has twice as many neurons as a bushbaby which has a brain of the same size. Interestingly songbirds were amongst the species with the highest density of neurons. All of this means that our gardens birds have the processing ability of some primates.

Impressive Abilities

Some birds can count, make tools and even recognise themselves in a mirror. In 2002 an Oxford research team were astonished to see a New Caledonian crow bend a piece of wire into a hook in order to fish food out of a container. African grey parrots are legendary for their counting ability and magpies can recognise their own reflections.

The research is continuing and the study has been broadened to include pigeons, waterfowl and chickens to see if their brains are also densely packed with neurons.

Squirrel Proof Bird Feeder Pole? What Challenges Can Birds Overcome?

It would be interesting to see what would happen if garden bird feeders were fitted with devices to foil the birds instead of the squirrels. Would the birds be able to overcome measures to prevent them from reaching the bird seed? Would they have both the intelligence and the tenacity to reach the food? What would happen if gardens featured bird proof feeders instead of squirrel proof bird feeder poles? Perhaps we have all been marvelling at the abilities of the wrong animals.

The birds which visit our gardens are certainly beautiful and fascinating to watch but they could be even more interesting than we ever imagined. Birds have impressive abilities and it would be exciting to explore just what they are capable of.


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