Usually, calling someone a “bird brain” is an insult, but being compared to some of the world’s most amazingly intelligent birds might be a compliment.
We all know that birds can fly enormous distances without maps. They can build a nest, fly hundreds or even thousands of miles away for the winter, and find their way back home.
We all know birds learn complex songs. They can even learn the “dialects” of nearby birds to communicate with them in their own avian language.
Cormorants are working birds that earn their keep by diving into river water to catch fish. Chinese fishermen who employ these birds place a ring around their necks to keep them from eating the fish, but they loosen the ring to allow the cormorant to eat every eighth fish it catches.
A story emerged from fishermen on the Li River about a cormorant that could count the number of fish it caught, and stubbornly refused to catch more than seven fish unless it was allowed to eat the eighth.
Researchers have discovered that parrots from Africa aren’t quite as good at math, gray parrots can count up to six. But animal scientist Dr. Irene Pepperberg kept a gray parrot named Alex for over 30 years, teaching it not only how to speak simple words but also how to use those words in sentences.
Birds can be amazingly intelligent.
Here is an introduction to 10 of the smartest birds on the planet.
African Grey Parrots
African grey parrots are brainy birds.
A study sponsored by Harvard’s Psychology Department showed that African grey parrots could perform cognitive tasks better than 5-year-old humans.
The study challenges a widely used test of animal intelligence called the two-cup test.
In this test, a reward is hidden in one of two cups, and subjects are shown that one cup is empty.
Those that successfully choose the other cup are thought to employ a process known as “inference by exclusion”.
Critics of the study said, “Sure, birds can figure out where a reward is if you use two cups, but what it you use three? Or four?”
The researchers designed a three-cup test and a four-cup test to test inference by exclusion and understanding of certainty versus possibility.
The tests showed that Griffin, the African grey parrot, outperformed even 5-year-olds.
Said the lead researcher, Irene Pepperberg, whom we mentioned earlier,
“Birds are separated from us by 300 million years of evolution, and their brains are organized differently than ours. That’s why this was so exciting — because we were able to show that Griffin was working at the level of a 5-year-old, on a task at which even apes would not likely succeed.”
As intelligent as African grey parrots are, there are another parrot species that is even smarter.
Also read: Why are Parrots so Expensive?
Amazon parrots are widely regarded as one of the smartest bird species on the planet.
Their sense of comedy, their almost-diabolical intelligence, and their capacity for mimicking human speech have made them popular as pets for hundreds of years.
These birds aren’t just extremely vocal and playful. They also possess the ability to imitate human speech so accurately that their words are often indistinguishable from words spoken by people.
In addition to their impressive vocal abilities, Amazon parrots are capable of learning a variety of complex tricks and tasks through training.
It’s no wonder that these birds have been sought after as companions to humans for centuries.
But not all species of Amazon parrots have identical abilities.
There are several varieties of Amazon parrots, including the blue-fronted Amazon parrot, which is native to South America.
This variety requires repeated human interaction to learn how to talk.
The yellow-crowned Amazon parrot is found in the rainforests of North and South America. It can become an excellent talker if it is properly socialized.
The yellow-naped Amazon is known for its ability to imitate human speech and often begins talking at a young age.
It usually bonds and learns from a single human owner. But these Amazonian parrots cede the spotlight to the vividly green-feathered eclectus parrot, native to New Guinea.
This Austrolasian bird is known for its clarity of voice and ability to learn entire songs, developing a strong bond with its owner through socialization and playtime.
Cockatoos are easily recognizable by their showy crests and curved bills.
These highly social birds are beloved for their endearing personalities and remarkable speaking abilities.
One of their most impressive traits is their ability to imitate an incredibly diverse range of sounds and speech.
In addition to their vocal abilities, these birds have demonstrated exceptional intelligence.
For example, in intelligent tests with captive-bred Goffin’s cockatoos, scientists observed that the birds were able to resist the temptation of immediate gratification.
They would often choose to trade a food item for a better reward later on.
This ability is akin to a well-known experiment from the 1970s.
In that experiment, small children were given a chance to eat one treat right now or two treats 15 minutes later. Cockatoos showed more delayed gratification than young children.
These findings underscore the impressive cognitive abilities of cockatoos and their capacity for complex decision-making.
Crows are known all over the world for their exceptional intelligence, and there is a growing body of evidence that supports this view.
Here are some examples of crow’s intelligence:
- Tool use: Crows have been observed using tools in the wild, such as using sticks to extract insects from crevices, and shaping hooks from wire to extract food from containers.
- Problem-solving ability: Crows have been observed solving a variety of problems, such as figuring out how to access food that is hidden or otherwise difficult to obtain.
- Social intelligence: Crows are highly social birds and are able to recognize individual members of their own species and other animals. They are also known to share information about food sources and dangers.
- Memory: Crows have been shown to have excellent long-term memory, which allows them to remember individual humans who pose a threat, as well as the location of food sources.
- Adaptability: Crows are able to adapt to changing environments, and are often found in urban areas where they have learned to scavenge food and avoid hazards such as traffic. They are also highly skilled at evading measures by homeowners to keep them out of their yards.
There are crows that can solve problems, make tools, and consider future events. and understand others’ states of mind.
Additionally, these birds have shown remarkable cognitive abilities, such as understanding causality, reasoning, and even counting up to five.
They also possess excellent long-term memory, being able to remember individual human faces.
In certain parts of the world, crows have been observed exhibiting fascinating behaviors.
For example, in Israel, wild hooded crows use bread crumbs to catch fish.
In Norway and Sweden, they have been seen dragging fishing lines out of the water to obtain the already-hooked fish.
What is truly impressive about crows is that they are considered to be the second-most intelligent species on the planet, just behind humans.
On some intelligence tests, crows have even outperformed apes.
Their brain-to-body weight ratio is equal to that of the great apes and to some of the most intelligent mammals in the sea, the whales, dolphins, and porpoises.
Also read: Crow Symbolism and Meaning
Hummingbirds include the smallest bird in the world, the bumblebee hummingbird of Cuba, which weighs as little as 2 grams.
That is less than the weight of a US dime. Its brain is the size of a BB. And this tiny brain can keep up with hundreds of flowers in dozens of different locations just to keep the bird from starving.
Hummingbirds need about half their body weight in nectar every day just to avoid losing weight.
They need to drain between 1,000 and 2,000 flowers to get their fill, and they need success in finding a nectar-filled flower every 10 minutes to avoid becoming faint.
A hummingbird cannot afford to visit the same flower twice. It must know how long it takes a flower to refill with nectar, so it can come back to that flower at just the right time.
Biologists Susan Healy and Jonathan Henderson of the University of Edinburgh in Scotland found that hummingbirds can not only remember where they found nectar but also when the flower usually refills.
Hummingbirds can do this even if the flower changes color between visits. They can do this for hundreds of flowers, even while they are defending their territory against other birds that want the flowers where they feed.
Many animals, including cats, dogs, and people, can remember where something important occurred.
But hummingbirds and humans are unusual in that they can remember when something important has happened.
Hummingbirds can use their brains to solve problems. For instance, if you change the lip of a sugar feeder so bees can’t use it, hummingbirds will figure out where they can place their tongues to continue to be able to get to the nectar it holds.
The tiny red-throated hummingbird can find its way across 500 miles (825 km) of the open Gulf of Mexico twice a year. It returns to locations where it knows there are flowers it knows.
Also read: How Do Hummingbirds Find Feeders?
Jackdaws are highly intelligent birds and possess a variety of cognitive abilities that have been studied by scientists.
Here are some ways in which jackdaws are intelligent:
- Problem-solving: Jackdaws are excellent problem solvers and can find creative solutions to complex tasks. They have been observed using tools to extract food from containers and solving puzzles to access food rewards.
- Social intelligence: Jackdaws are highly social animals and can recognize and remember individual members of their own and other species. They have also been observed engaging in cooperative behaviors and communicating with each other using a range of calls and gestures.
- Memory: Jackdaws have excellent long-term memory and can remember individual humans and places for years. They can also remember where they have hidden food and can retrieve it weeks later.
- Spatial reasoning: Jackdaws have been shown to possess excellent spatial reasoning abilities, which allow them to navigate complex environments and locate hidden food sources.
- Self-awareness: Jackdaws have demonstrated mirror self-recognition, which is a sign of self-awareness.
Jays are highly intelligent birds and have several cognitive abilities that have been studied by scientists.
Here are some ways in which jays are intelligent:
- Tool use: Jays are known to use tools to obtain food. They have been observed using sticks and other objects to extract insects from crevices.
- Memory: Jays have an excellent memory, especially for the location of food caches. They are capable of remembering hundreds of different hiding places for food.
- Social intelligence: Jays are highly social animals and can recognize individual members of their own and other species. They communicate with each other using a range of calls and gestures.
- Planning: Jays have been observed engaging in planning behavior. They will hide food when other jays are watching, then later move the food to a new location when they are alone to avoid theft.
- Problem-solving: Jays have been shown to be able to solve complex problems. For example, they can use a sequence of actions to obtain a food reward that requires multiple steps.
The Kea, a parrot native to New Zealand, has earned a reputation as one of the world’s most intelligent birds, often cited among the top ten.
These birds are known for their crafty abilities when it comes to finding or stealing food, and their cleverness has earned them the nickname “Clown of the Alps.”
While their mischievous nature can cause trouble, particularly for cars, the Kea’s intelligence is remarkable, placing them among some of the smartest animals on Earth.
In fact, in intelligence tests carried out by a Canterbury University master’s student, the Kea outscored gibbons, which are anthropoid apes belonging to the primate family.
Such findings highlight the impressive cognitive abilities of these birds and solidify their reputation as one of the most intelligent species on the planet.
Macaws are known for their intelligence and affectionate personalities.
These birds come in a range of colors and sizes, with the larger macaws being the most common.
The Blue and Gold macaw is playful and fun-loving, while the scarlet macaw is more sensitive and attached to its immediate family.
The Greenwinged macaw is considered one of the most intelligent macaws and can be quite social.
Military macaws are larger and have similar personalities to blue and gold macaws, while red-fronted macaws are smaller but comical.
The most majestic of all macaws are the Hyacinth macaws, which can grow up to 4 feet long and are the largest members of the parrot family.
If you have ever seen the cartoon characters Hekyll and Jekyll, you know that magpies have a long, famous history as intelligent birds.
In the real world, magpies are famous for at least six signs of unusual braininess.
- Tool use: Magpies are one of the few non-mammal species that can use tools. They have been observed using sticks to extract food from hard-to-reach places, such as crevices in trees.
- Memory: Magpies have excellent long-term memory and can remember individual humans and places for years. They can also remember where they have hidden food and can retrieve it weeks later.
- Mirror self-recognition: Magpies are capable of recognizing themselves in mirrors, which is a sign of self-awareness.
- Social intelligence: Magpies are highly social animals and are able to recognize and remember individual members of their own and other species. They can also communicate with each other using a variety of calls and gestures.
- Problem-solving: Magpies are adept at solving complex problems. In one study, magpies were able to use a small tool to extract food from a container with a small opening, even when the tool was not in direct line of sight of the container.
Ravens are predator birds, but they have predator birds.
Their natural predators include raptors such as falcons, golden eagles, and horned owls.
Although ravens are preyed upon by birds of prey, sometimes these natural enemies work together.
Ravens can perch on their feet and help raptors build their nests. Sometimes, ravens and their predators even have nests on cliffs located just a few feet from each other.
A group of ravens is known as a “flock,” but they are also described using colorful terms such as a “conspiracy,” a “rave,” “unkindness,” or a “treachery.”
These pejorative terms likely stem from the observation that ravens feed not only on small animals but also on larger dead animals such as deer and moose.
They also attract other ravens to join in the feast of the dead game.
Ravens are known for their ability to think on the fly.
They often exhibit unpredictable behavior, unlike other animals, such as ants, which will follow a trail to food no matter what, or bears, which will swat away threatening animals and eat when they are hungry.
Ravens can “make it up as they go along.”
They have large brains, proportionate to their body weight, with the largest volumes of the cerebral cortex in the bird world.
Their ability to reason helps them avoid threats, and they are capable of human-like responses in situations they cannot escape.
According to raven specialist Mark Pavelka of the US Fish and Wildlife Service, “There are lots of tall tales about wildlife. But with ravens, even the most outlandish story is probably true.”
Some interesting facts about ravens that have been scientifically documented include:
- Hanging upside down by their feet for fun
- Making snow angels (or bathing themselves in the snow to remove insects and dirt from their feathers)
- Flying upside down
- Using rocks and other objects to crowd gulls out of their nests
- Picking up rocks with their beaks and throwing them at predators that were threatening their hatchlings
- Carrying food with their feet rather than in their beaks
- Splashing around in the water for fun long after any dirt or insects have been washed out of their feathers
- Rolling on the ground to avoid capture by a peregrine falcon
- Catching doves in mid-air for food
- Covering their eggs to camouflage them from other birds
- Poking holes in the bottom of their nest on an unusually hot day to cool it off
- Making friends with a crow
- Making fun of reindeer grazing on moss
These behaviors are much more complex than simple migration or nesting. Ravens possess a unique kind of intelligence that sets them apart from most other animals.
In this article, I covered the 10 most intelligent birds that you can find easily. I have also covered some examples and studies that make us believe that these birds are, in fact, intelligent.
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