how big is a birds brain

MISSOULA – Birds can be pretty intelligent, and biologists have long wondered why certain species of birds are smarter than others, and whether these abilities come from larger brains — which has been the general consensus for years — or from a greater number of neurons in specific areas of the brain.

A new publication in Nature has found that the answer is that it’s a little bit of both. A crows brain is about the weight of three nickels, and if you compare a crows brain to an orangutan’s brain of the same mass, the crow’s brain will have 43 times more neurons than the orangutan. This means that certain birds can achieve primate-like levels of cognition.

The reason that the brains of birds can have so many more neurons is largely due to what is known as the pallium. The pallium in birds is the equivalent of the human cerebral cortex – the outer layer that is all squiggly and mushed together. This part of the brain is involved in memory, learning, reasoning, and problem-solving.

The reason a bird’s pallium is able to store so many neurons is because of its smoothness, which adds more surface area. Compared to our brains, our cortex seems clunky but, a bird’s has more room — allowing them to be jampacked with neurons.

When researchers compared bird neuron numbers to over 4,000 foraging innovations, they found that the species with the higher numbers of neurons in the pallium were also likely to be the most innovative.

A key component to more neurons was also attributed to longer time spent in the nest as a baby. Larger species of birds like crows and parrots — that are known for their intelligence — spend a longer period of time in the nest. A sparrow spends about half as much time as a crow does in the nest.

Spending more time in the nest allows more time for the brain to grow and accumulate more neurons. The results of this recent study allow for more of an understanding of the evolution and significance of brain size and show how a life-history perspective helps to understand the evolution of brain cognition. Copyright 2022 Scripps Media, Inc. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.

The reason Jennifer Ackerman wrote this book: I’ve been observing birds since I was a young child, and I’ve always thought they’re resourceful. However, in the last ten or so years, studies about Betty the New Caledonian Crow, who was able to bend a wire into a hook and retrieve a small bucket of food from the tube’s bottom, have come to light. And then there was Alex, who collaborated with Harvard scientist Irene Pepperberg to demonstrate that birds are just as intelligent as primates. And I became so intrigued by the notion that there was more research being done on birds’ cognitive abilities that I wanted to learn more about it.

“The Genius of Birds” (Penguin Books/2016) profiles a range of winged-beasts who are expert problem solvers and mappers with their own social networks and cultural traditions. Host Frank Stasio talks with science writer Jennifer Ackerman about her new book.

Bird brains are about the size of a nut, or maybe even smaller. However, a wealth of recent studies reveals that birds are actually among the most intelligent animals in the animal kingdom, despite their small brain size.

Regarding their empathic nature, ravens are highly gregarious birds. They live in groups. And it’s not a peaceful, kind of harmonious existence. They have a lot of fights and altercations. When a raven is involved in a conflict of any kind, its mate or an ally will comfort it. This usually involves preening or twining bills, which is the bird equivalent of kissing.

Regarding the composition of bird brains, we did speculate that due to their small size and primitive nature that their true capacity was limited to the most basic mental functions But two things. The brains of many species are remarkably large in relation to their body size. It’s known as relative brain size, and it also applies to our species. Furthermore, the density of neurons is what matters most when it comes to intelligence. The number of neurons in the brains of corvids and parrots is likely twice that of brains of the same size in primates. and roughly four times as many neurons as brains the size of mammals. And neuronal connections are another important factor in intelligence. Bird brains are similar to human brains in many aspects. They share the same intricate wiring patterns as our brains.

The pallium is primarily responsible for the large number of neurons found in bird brains. Similar to the human cerebral cortex, the pallium in birds is the outer layer that is mushy and coiled together. The functions of this area of the brain include learning, memory, reasoning, and problem-solving.

Longer time spent in the nest as a baby was also linked, in part, to having more neurons. Larger, more intelligent bird species such as parrots and crows stay in the nest for extended periods of time. A sparrow stays in the nest for roughly half as long as a crow does.

MISSOULA – It’s well known that birds are fairly intelligent animals. However, scientists have long been perplexed as to why some bird species are more intelligent than others, and if this is due to larger brains, as has long been believed, or a higher density of neurons in particular brain regions.

Researchers discovered that the species with the highest density of neurons in the pallium were also probably the most inventive when they compared the number of neurons in birds’ brains to over 4,000 foraging innovations.

The smoothness of a bird’s pallium, which increases surface area, is what allows it to hold so many neurons. Our cortex appears clunky in comparison to a bird’s, whose cortex has more space and can accommodate a higher density of neurons.


Do small birds have brains?

Although bird brains are tiny, they’re packed with neurons, especially in areas responsible for higher level thinking. Two studies published last month in Science explore the structure and function of avian brains—revealing they are organized similarly to mammals’ and are capable of conscious thought.

Why do birds have large brains?

The size and structure of the avian brain enables prominent behaviours of birds such as flight and vocalization. Dedicated structures and pathways integrate the auditory and visual senses, strong in most species of birds, as well as the typically weaker olfactory and tactile senses.

What is the brain mass of a bird?

While European magpies, ravens and New Caledonian crows have brain weights of about 5.5, eight and 14 grams, respectively, pigeons’ brains weigh in at about two grams—comparable to the weight of a rat’s brain. But even pigeons are brainier than assumed.

What is the difference between a bird brain and a human brain?

Although a bird’s brain lacks the neocortex found in a human brain, they have a similar structure, called a pallium. Though dissimilar in shape, both the neocortex and pallium are laid out in a similar pattern of layered neurons.