Research shows that some birds like parrots and songbirds have more brain matter than mammalian species.
We all know about the epithet used by the super-intelligent for the extra-dumb. “Bird Brain” brings connotations of having the thinking abilities of our avian cousins.
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Yet today scientists have discovered that these fine feathered friends of ours may have more in that space between their ears than was thought of in previous times. The total number of forebrain neurons in some parrots and songbirds exceed those in many mammals.
The study was published in the journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences titled "Birds have primate-like numbers of neurons in the forebrain".
“For a long time having a ‘bird brain’ was considered to be a bad thing: Now it turns out that it should be a compliment,” said Vanderbilt University neuroscientist Suzana Herculano-Houzel, senior author of the paper with Pavel Němec at the Charles University in Prague.
It seems to be the case that some avians are brainier than usual. These go up to 28 bird species. The neurons in their pallial telencephalons go way up into the millions and billions.
This is the brain area responsible for higher learning. Mammals with similar sized brains didn’t have as many neurons as these birds. This completely upsets the models of the scientists regarding evolutionary intelligence in species.
Parrots and songbirds have brains that are literally packed with neurons. The former have from 227 million to 3.14 billion of them in their forebrains. Th latter have anywhere from 136 million to 2.17 billion in their gray matter.
These astronomical numbers are twice the number of neurons found in primates were they the same size. They are also four times the number of neurons found in rats and mice.
In order to come to terms with the sheer number of neurons in the so-called “bird brains”, scientists dissected and dissolved the brain matter in a detergent solution.
They thus converted the avian brains to a sort of brain soup. Thus they were able to pinpoint as well as count the exact number of neurons in the mixture.
The brain region that held the huge number of neurons was employed to use implements, plan for the times ahead, generate beautiful tunes and imitate human speech in the manner of echolalia.
The neurons were diminutive in size and they had short connections that were compact to boot. So the next time we label our avian cousins as “bird brains” we ought to think twice since such is hardly the case.
Many songbirds manage to come out with entire symphonies in a jiffy whereas mankind has to take days of brainstorming to come up with a few snatches of a song.
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Birds are just as intelligent as mammals. They have just been misunderstood for a long time by their mammalian higher-ups on the evolutionary ladder.