The new [classificatory] system, which draws upon many of the words
used to describe the human brain and has broad support among
scientists, acknowledges the now overwhelming evidence that avian and
mammalian brains are remarkably similar — a fact that explains why
many kinds of bird are not just twitchily resourceful but able to
design and manufacture tools, solve mathematical problems and, in many
cases, use language in ways that even chimpanzees and other primates
In particular, it reflects a new recognition that the
bulk of a bird’s brain is not, as scientists once thought, mere "basal
ganglia" — the part of the brain that simply coordinates instincts.
Rather, fully 75 percent of a bird’s brain is an intricately wired mass
that processes information in much the same way as the vaunted human
…behavioral studies in recent years have proved that many birds have more pallium power than your average mammal.
Even seemingly moronic pigeons can categorize objects
as "human-made" vs. "natural"; discriminate between cubistic and
impressionistic styles of painting; and communicate using visual
symbols on computers, according to evidence compiled by the consortium,
which spent seven years on the project with input from scientists
around the world.
Some birds can play games in which they intentionally
tell lies. New Caledonian crows design and make tools. Scrub jays can
recall events from specific times or places — a trait once thought
unique to humans. And perhaps most impressive, parrots, hummingbirds
and thousands of other species of songbirds are able to teach and learn
vocal communication — the basic skill that makes human language
possible. That’s a variant of social intelligence not found in any
mammal other than people, bats, and cetaceans such as dolphins and
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