Next time someone calls you “bird-brained,” take it as a compliment.

Long thought to be dim-witted and foolish, our feathered friends are more capable than we assumed.

Crows can make tools, ravens can solve puzzles, and parrots can speak with a diverse vocabulary.

Birds, in fact, pack a lot of intellect into a very small space; their brains consist of more neurons than mammals, according to National Geographic. And it’s about time we give them the credit they deserve.

“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,” Kevin McGowan, an expert on crows at the Cornell Lab of Ornithology, said in a statement to NatGeo. “We’ve restricted the playing field to things we think only we can do.”

When it comes to mimicking human speech or solving problems, though, “it always comes down to parrots and corvids,” McGowan said.

African grey parrots are famous mimics (via Joel Sartore/National Geographic)

The beautiful African grey parrot is the most accomplished of its breed, able to copy human speech in an adorably endearing way.

Who doesn’t love a heartwarming story about an escaped pet reunited with its owner after repeating his name and address?

“There’s a lot going on in those little walnut brains of theirs,” McGowan said. “And they live so long that they can amass a lot of intelligence and a lot of memories.”

A common raven (via Joel Sartore/National Geographic)

Unlike its fellow corvids—crows, rooks, jackdaws, jays, magpies, treepies, choughs, and nutrackers—the common raven displays a penchant for problem-solving, imitation, and insight.

Ravens are also believed to be one of only four known animals (alongside bees, ants, and humans) that demonstrate displacement, or the capacity to communicate about things not immediately present.

Crows, meanwhile, appear warier of strangers, yet more comfortable with acquaintances; they have what McGowan called “a good sense that every person is different and that they need to approach them differently.”

“They know my car, they know my walk, they know me 10 miles away from where they’ve ever encountered me before,” he said of the local birds. “They’re just amazing that way.”

An adult male great-tailed grackle perched on a branch in Panama (via Jeff Mauritzen/National Geographic)

The ornithologist also praised cockatoos; the first animal observed making musical instruments, as well as the superbly named great-tailed grackles, which fared as well as ravens and crows on classic intelligence tests.

To mark the centennial of the protective Migratory Bird Treaty Act, National Geographic, the National Audubon Society, the Cornell Lab of Ornithology, and BirdLife International teamed up to declare 2018 the “Year of the Bird.”


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