4 Reasons that bird brained might be an inaccurate saying.

  1. Many birds are capable of making and using tools.
  2. Birds understand road speed limits.
  3. Cockatoos are smarter than human toddlers.
  4. Birds and humans have similar brain wiring.



  1. Many birds are capable of making and using tools.

There have been numerous recorded cases of birds using tools from the Egyptian vulture cracking open ostrich eggs with a stone held in its beak, to a crow improvising a hook from some wire (with no prior experience) to access food from a bottle in a scientific experiment. Birds haven't only been observed creating and using tools, they have also been known to learn how to use them by watching and each other, an attribute that is very prevalent throughout the crow family.

The creation and use of tools by animals is mainly credited to primates that are considered the closest relation to humans, and other mammals considered to be clever such as elephants and dolphins. The fact that many birds are also capable of tool manipulation and creation should place their intelligence at around the same level as that of the mammals we have mentioned.


  1. Birds understand road speed limits.

Something that is often ignored by humans and not understood by many mammals, speed limits on roads are something that wild birds appear to be aware of. This was first noticed in 2006 by two Canadian researchers working in France when they were on their way home from their lab.

They found that when on a 50 kilometre per hour road, the birds would generally take flight when the car was within 15 metres of them, this extended to 75 metres when observing birds on a road with a speed limit of 110 kilometres per hour.

What was also interesting was how the birds would take flight within the same distance of any approaching car regardless of its speed; this meant that the response of the birds was based on the average speed of the cars on the stretch of road rather than their individual speeds.

As mentioned before this behaviour of learning the average speed of cars is not exhibited by most mammals and offers an insight into how intelligent birds actually are.


  1. Cockatoos are smarter than human toddlers.

An experiment that tested the capability and understanding of object permanence (knowing that an object exists even when it is out of sight) amongst several young cockatoos ended with results that rivalled the abilities of four-year old human children.

The experiment which took place in Austria had eight cockatoo participants that were around one year old. They were tasked with identifying and tracking containers that hid a cashew nut reward. The containers were moved invisibly by a magnet beneath the table, when a cockatoo located the right container it was rewarded with the cashew nut inside. To make the tests comparable to those that were taken by children, the researchers designed several tasks that offered challenges to the cockatoos that were similar to the tasks completed by the children in their experiment.

The eventual findings of these tests were that the cockatoos had spatial reasoning abilities that rivalled those of great apes and human children, proving that they were highly intelligent.


  1. Birds and humans have similar brain wiring.

Earlier in the year a group of researchers based at the Imperial College London developed the first ever map of a typical bird brain. The map showed how different regions of the brain are connected together to process information and was compared to brain diagrams of different mammals including humans.

The researchers found that areas considered important for long-term memory, problem solving and other high-level cognitive processes were wired to other regions of the brain in a similar way to those of mammals, even though both types of brain have been evolving down separate paths for hundreds of millions of years. This led the researchers to propose that evolution has created a common blueprint for high-level cognition in the brain. The study also proved that the way our brains work is not dissimilar to that of a pigeon.

All of these studies have in one way or another proven that birds are in no way stupid and that they are in fact much more intelligent than they are often given credit. They also help to back up the statement that calling someone ‘bird brained' may be accurate, but it should definitely not be considered an insult.  


This article was written by Andy Wiles. If you have any questions or queries you can email him directly on info@brinvale.com 


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