Study says bird brains more precise than humans’

 The motion study used by QBI researchers.

The motion study used by QBI researchers.


Birds have been found to display superior judgement of their body width compared to humans, in research to help design autonomous aircraft navigation systems.

A University of Queensland (UQ) study has found that budgerigars can fly between gaps almost as narrow as their outstretched wingspan rather than taking evasive measures such as tucking in their wings.

UQ Queensland Brain Institute researcher Dr Ingo Schiffner said previous research showed humans unnecessarily turned their shoulders to pass through doorways narrower than 130 per cent of their body width, whereas birds are far more precise. Continue reading

Bird brains: Public asked to look out for clever rooks

Rooks are highly sociable birds and are often seen in large groups

Rooks are highly sociable birds and are often seen in large groups

The British Trust for Ornithology (BTO) is asking the public to take part in a national survey of bird intelligence.

From 1 July, the charity is asking people to submit video clips or descriptions of the behaviour or rooks – some of our cleverest garden birds.

Rooks have already demonstrated their intelligence in lab-based studies that have tested their ability to solve problems and use tools.

This survey will examine if and how wild rooks apply these skills.

The rook is a member of the corvid or crow family, which is famed for its intelligence. Continue reading

To woo females, bird brains need testosterone ‘bath’

"In so many other species, testosterone in the POM can regulate an animal's motivation, in this case, the motivation to sing," says Beau Alward. "However, singing and courting a female is more than just motivation." (Credit: Michelle Tribe/Flickr)

“In so many other species, testosterone in the POM can regulate an animal’s motivation, in this case, the motivation to sing,” says Beau Alward. “However, singing and courting a female is more than just motivation.” (Credit: Michelle Tribe/Flickr)

Male canaries sang better mating songs after researchers applied testosterone to their entire brains, not just the part that controls sexual motivation, report researchers.

The findings may shed light on how testosterone and other anabolic steroids act in the human brain to regulate sexual behavior, speech, and other activity. Continue reading

‘Bird Brains’ author to share insights

The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service reports that nearly 50 million people in the United States are “bird-watchers,” many of whom set up elaborate (and expensive) feeding stations to attract wild birds into their own backyards.

Total U.S. expenditures on bird-watching equipment, field guides, food, and travel exceeds $30 billion (yes with a “B”) annually. Continue reading

Study shows birds have remarkable brains

The next time someone calls you a bird brain, you can thank him. Even though that comment is usually intended to be less than kind, the brain of a bird is quite remarkable.

Consider birds in migration. They depart their northern nesting territories to fly sometimes thousands of miles to wintering grounds. They can find their way at night, in poor weather and over land that may have changed since their last flight. Continue reading

Dinosaurs developed bird brains before they could fly

Scientists have found that the dinosaurs' brains were similar to that of Archaeopteryx, pictured, which is thought to be the first bird Photo: PA

Scientists have found that the dinosaurs’ brains were similar to that of Archaeopteryx, pictured, which is thought to be the first bird Photo: PA

Analysis of the skulls of feathered but flightless dinosaurs shows they developed bigger brains that may have paved the way for them to take to the air.

Scientists have found that the reptiles’ brains were much more like that of Archaeopteryx, which is thought to be the first bird and lived 150 million years ago, than had been previously thought.

It means these other flightless dinosaurs may have already taken key evolutionary leaps towards becoming modern birds by developing “flight ready brains”.

Despite the term “bird brain” being commonly used as slang for stupidity, birds actually have unusually large brains compared to their body size.

This is most apparent in the forebrain, which provides the superior vision and co-ordination necessary for flight.

The same characteristics, seen in Archaeopteryx, have now been found in a number of flightless two-legged dinosaurs, thought to be distant relatives of modern birds.

The enlarged bird-like brain can now be added to the other features they possessed which makes them strong candidates as the ancestors of modern birds, such as feathers and wishbones.

Scientists used CT scanners similar to those found in hospitals to peer inside the brain cases of modern birds, Archaeopteryx, and several non-avian dinosaurs.

The 3D X-ray images allowed them to reconstruct the skulls’ interiors, revealing brain volume and key areas where parts of the brain would have been enlarged.

These included areas required for smell, vision and the cerebellum, which is important for the coordination of movement and balance that would have been required for flight.

“Archaeopteryx has always been set up as a uniquely transitional species between feathered dinosaurs and modern birds, a halfway point,” said lead scientist Dr Amy Balanoff, from the American Museum of Natural History in New York.

“But by studying the cranial volume of closely related dinosaurs, we learned that Archaeopteryx might not have been so special.”

Like Archaeopteryx, the dinosaurs had large brains in relation to their bodies.

Some, including the bird-like oviraptorosaurs and troodontids, actually had brains that were even more enlarged than that of their flying cousin.

The dinosaurs appeared to have much of the flight controller wiring seen in birds, even though they could not fly, the scientists reported in the journal Nature.

“If Archaeopteryx had a flight-ready brain, which is almost certainly the case given its morphology, then so did at least some other non-avian dinosaurs,” Dr Balanoff added.

The findings suggest that if Archaeopteryx was capable of flight, as some palaeontologists believe, then other feathered dinosaurs may also have been too.

However, these big-brained dinosaurs appeared to lack a key neural structure that may be an important flying aid in modern birds.

An indentation in the digital brain cast of Archaeopteryx is thought to be evidence of the wulst – German for “bulge” – which is used in information processing and motor control.

This was absent in the brain casts of flightless dinosaurs.