Crows and Ravens, Part II

Corvids are to birds what Border Collies are to dogs, Dolphins are to mammals and Einstein was to humans. But how can we humans, locked as we are in our own brains, evaluate intelligence in other sentient beings?

It is a big challenge because other beings perceive the world differently. Scientists have difficulty devising methods of assessing and accessing intelligence in other species. One rough approximation used for vertebrates is brain volume relative to body mass. Generally speaking, the larger the forebrain the more information the animal can handle and process. Humans rank second on this scale, behind some species of dolphins. In the bird world, Corvid brains are as big as they come. 800px-corvus_corax_nps.jpg

On this scale of relative volume, bird brains are not small. Moreover, birds have developed a piece of forebrain tissue that is organized in a way unique to birds. It is called the hyperpallium. The entire area of a bird’s brain, known today as the pallium, is about 75% of the total brain. That is about the same in terms of relative volume that is found in mammals, including humans. The larger the pallium, the higher the birds and mammals score on the intelligence tests we design for them. The high bird scorers have the most highly developed dorsal ventricular ridge (DVR) which is an area of the brain densely packed with neurons.

In case you are wondering, here are the top scorers: Corvids and Falcons, followed by Hawks, Woodpeckers and Herons. Low scorers include Pigeons, Doves, Quail and domestic chickens. However, before you go off thinking that Pigeons are really stupid, you might consider that Pigeons can memorize hundreds of visual patterns, communicate with visual signals and distinguish man-made objects from natural objects. And Pigeons are at the rock bottom of avian intelligence. They aren’t even invited to Raven cocktail parties.

So the next time you feel a need to insult someone, remember this: Calling him a “birdbrain” won’t work. That is a compliment.

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