Can birds think like humans?

I had recently posted a link on my link blog about a fascinating article that describes how songbirds are able to learn grammar. Triggered by that article, I had a broader discussion with Priya Raju on whether birds or for that matter other animals can think and learn as we do. Its a pretty controversial issue because there are many scientists who hold the view that humans are unique in their ability to think in the way they do and other animals don’t have this capability.She reached out to the Wikipedia which has a chock full of fascinating information on bird intelligence:

Birds in particular were thought to be not intelligent because the size of the cerebral cortex (this is the part where most higher order thinking and decision making is known to happen in human beings). It turns out that birds actually use a different part of their brain (medio-rostral neostriatum/hyperstriatum ventrale) for such functions. Birds display all the classic traits associated with intelligence – advanced vision, social behavior, tool usage, language, migration, conceptual skills and other indicators like usage of medicines.

The last one, is particularly interesting, I had posted a while back about the peruvian macaws and their clay licks more from the perspective of a colorful spectacle. It turns out that the clay acts as an antacid which the birds need because they have feasted on a highly acidic diet. Some crows in Japan have learnt to break open walnuts by dropping them in the path of cars. Overall, as Ronald Kotulak says in the songbird article in the Chicago Tribune mentioned above, i think there is significant evidence to conclude that the last bastion of the uniqueness of human beings has fallen. References:
1. Soumya quoting from Discover points out that there is only a 2% difference between the chimp and human genome. 2. Japanese Macaques’ potato washing technique. Its hard to have not heard about this amazing animal behavior.


  1. Anonymous said May 2, 2006, 12:36 pm:

    I remember watching a program on NBC (or is it ABC) long time back about parrots being able to separate blocks of same color shapes etc. Fascinating. Here are a few more links on this topic –,68226-0.html

  2. Anonymous said May 2, 2006, 1:09 pm:

    Excellent additions to the topic Ganesh. I wonder whether Chomsky’s recursion issue was also solved.

    In today’s ITOTD, our friend Joe Kissell has an article “Crows that Make Tools” with several interesting things and links to even more interesting stuff.