Accessibility links

Breaking News

SCIENCE REPORT – March 6, 2002: Bird Brains - 2002-03-05

This is the VOA Special English Science Report.

American scientists have found that some birds are more intelligent than experts had believed. The scientists say birds have abilities that involve communication and different kinds of memory. In some unusual cases, their abilities seem better than those of humans.

The findings were presented at the yearly meeting of the American Association for the Advancement of Science. The scientists met for six days last month in Boston, Massachusetts.

Irene Pepperberg presented her research about a Grey parrot named Griffin. He lives in her laboratory at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology in Cambridge.

Mizz Pepperberg says Griffin can arrange objects in order of size. She says the talking bird also can combine words in the right order. For example, he will combine words when asking for a piece of food.

The researcher says experts had thought that only humans and other mammals with large brains have the ability to combine objects and words. She believes that bird brains have the ability to understand that complex tasks must be done in the correct order.

Some birds have other memory skills. For example, they collect and store thousands of seeds in autumn, and find them later in winter.

Alan Kamil (pronounced camel) and Alan Bond of the University of Nebraska are studying the memories of birds called jays and nutcrackers. Their experiments suggest that these birds use natural objects to find the seeds they have stored. They found the birds use at least three objects, such as rocks or trees, to find the stored seeds.

Mister Kamil also was able to train a jay to choose one object instead of another. The bird used this skill to receive a prize, such as food. Scientists also say some birds can learn as many as two-thousand different songs. They say songs may have developed as a way for birds to communicate with other birds.

Verner Bingman of Bowling Green State University in Ohio also presented research at the science meeting in Boston. Mister Bingman believes that birds must have a special guidance system in their brain. He says that understanding how a bird’s brain operates may help us better understand how a human brain processes information.

This VOA Special English Science Report was written by George Grow.