Phenomenal intelligence in a tiny brain: the identikit of birds


Birds are extraordinarily intelligent, despite their small brains. Corvids and some parrots are capable of cognitive feats comparable to those of the great apes .


How do birds achieve impressive cognitive ability with such tiny brain sizes?

Some researchers at Duke University have tried to answer the question by studying the cellular composition of the brains of 28 avian species, discovering a simple solution to the enigma: the brains of songbirds and parrots contain a very high number of neurons , with neuronal densities considerably higher than those found in mammals. These “extra” neurons are predominantly located in the forebrain (front of the brain), parrots and large corvids have as many or more neurons in the forebrain as monkeys with much larger brains. Avian brains therefore have the potential to provide much higher “cognitive power” per unit mass than mammalian brains.

Absolutely brilliant from an evolutionary point of view.


  • Birds have primate-like numbers of neurons in the forebrain. (


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