An Exploration of Avian Intelligence
by Nathan Emery
The term \”bird brain\” is a complete misnomer, according to this author. Many birds are highly intelligent, having thinking abilities on par with apes in some cases, and using skills and faculties beyond our own, in others. The book is divided into sections exploring how avian intelligence may have evolved, their abilities to navigate long distances and utilize spatial memory, their communication skills, social intelligence, tool use and tool-making, perception of self and more. A lot of the studies in the book were done with birds renowned for their smarts- parrots in some cases, rooks, jays and crows in most. Other studies used chickens and pigeons. The difference in learning things by mimicry rather than trial and error or deduction is pointed out. I was impressed with the aptitude that rooks have for solving problems- usually presented with a task to retrieve food by choosing a correct tool, making a tool or using cooperation. Most surprising (to me) was to find that when presented with the same problems to solve as the rooks, children under five usually failed the test, even up to twelve-year-olds didn\’t always solve it as quickly. So these birds really are smart. The ways in which scientists studies how well birds can plan for the future was really ingenious. And unlike other books I\’ve read on animal intelligence, this one actually shows maps of the brain, comparing the connections between different brain regions (and their relative sizes) with how similar connections function in humans and other animals.
While the book impressed me with its fascinating information, I was disappointed in the presentation. The chosen photographs and executed illustrations are good quality, but the font type for the main body text is lightweight and a tad small, so it takes some focus; I often found myself physically tired of reading and put the book down to return to later. Also noticed many typos, which became really irritating the further I read. But in all, an impressive volume that overturns ideas of birds as being dim-witted or simple in nature.
Borrowed from the public library.
Rating: 3/5 192 pages, 2016