Birds Are Intelligent, Their Brains Are Packed With Neurons, Study Reveals

First Posted: Jun 17, 2016 04:30 AM EDT

The researchers found that birds have more neurons packed in their small brains than the mammalian or even primates' brains of the same mass.

The study was printed online in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences. It was led by researchers from Vanderbilt University.

In a study, the researchers examined the cellular composition of the brains of 28 avian species. These include the brains of songbirds and parrots. They discovered that these birds contain very large numbers of neurons. This exceeds those found in mammals. The extra neurons are located in the forebrain. With this, the corvids and large parrots have the same or greater forebrain neurons count as monkeys with much larger brains. Therefore, the avian brains have the potential to deliver greater cognitive power per unit mass than do the mammalian brains.

Suzana Herculano-Houzel, the senior author of the study and neuroscientist from Vanderbilt University said that they found that birds, particularly the songbirds and parrots have remarkably large numbers of neurons in their pallium, this is the part of the brain that links to the cerebral cortex that supports higher cognition functions such as planning for the future or finding patterns. She further said that this explains why they show levels of cognition at least as complex as primates, as noted by Science Daily.

Hercano-Houzel further explained that in designing brains, nature has two parameters it can play with. These include the size and the number of neurons and the distribution of neurons across different brain centers. On the other hand, she said that in birds they find that nature has used both of them.


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