Scientists have long puzzled over why some species of birds, with their teeny tiny bird brains, are able to solve complex problems, create tools, recognize their own reflection, find their way home without GPS, form lasting monogamous partnerships, sing, understand causal relationships, and make long-term decisions about resources–all things that you, with your grotesquely oversized adult primate brain, struggle to accomplish. There’s more processing power packed into a bird’s nut-sized brain that you might expect, and a recent study helps explain why:
Published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, the study by researchers at Vanderbilt University (“Birds have primate-like numbers of neurons in the forebrain“), looked at the number of neurons in the brains of 28 species of birds and found that there’s a higher density of neurons than we find in mammal brains. So the bird brains might be small, but that doesn’t necessarily mean they can’t do as much, in the same way that my smartphone is significantly smaller than a Commodore 64, but my smartphone can do much more.
If you needed some evidence of how clever birds can be, there’s a community of ravens in Japan that have figured how to leave nuts on the road so cars will drive over them and break open the shells. Click here to watch a raven put some humans to work.