Until the 21st century, birds were largely dismissed as simpletons. How smart can you be with a brain the size of a nut?
And yet the more we study bird intelligence, the more those assumptions are breaking down. Studies have shown, for instance, that crows make tools, ravens solve puzzles, and parrots boast a diverse vocabulary.
Birds make good use of the allotted space for their tiny brains by packing in lots of neurons—more so than mammals, in fact. (Read: “Think ‘Birdbrain’ Is an Insult? Think Again.”)
But what actually qualifies a bird as smart? The definition should be broader than it is, scientists say.
“Being able to fly to Argentina, come back, and land in the same bush—we don’t value that intelligence in a lot of other organisms,” says Kevin McGowan, an expert on crows at the Cornell Lab of Ornithology in Ithaca, New York. “We’ve restricted the playing field to things we think only we can do.”