The term “bird brained” is usually used as a slur to impugn someone’s intelligence. But why should a reference to avian intelligence be insulting? Birds have phenomenal brains. In fact, Howard Gardner’s Theory of Multiple Intelligences posits eight different kinds of genius, which include Visual/Spatial (visual perception of the environment, the ability to create and manipulate mental images, and the orientation of the body in space), Bodily/Kinesthetic (physical coordination and dexterity, using fine and gross motor skills, and expressing oneself or learning through physical activities), and Naturalist (understanding the natural world of plants and animals). The astonishing levels of spatial and kinesthetic awareness displayed by a single flock of sparrows weaving effortlessly through a maze of branches far surpass those of even our most gifted athletes.
Furthermore, it’s not as if birds are uniformly devoid of reason. Some species, especially corvids and parrots, possess nimble, active minds. The most famous recent example of bird brilliance is that of the tool-using New Caledonian crows. But crows and their clever kin, ravens are also able to learn, teach, play, reason, and get others to do their dirty work, that last one a sure sign of an advanced mind! Some researchers have gone so far as to claim that corvid cognitive abilities are on par with canids such as wolves, coyotes, and dogs or even a match for those of primates such as chimpanzees and gorillas.
Parrots and macaws are also famous for at least simulating the trappings of intelligence. Critics usually decry psittacine speech as mindless mimicry but some research compares their intelligence and emotional make-up to that of a 3 to 4 year old human child. Plus, many of these birds are intrepid escape artists. So watch who you’re calling names; that budgie in a cage or the pigeon that just soiled your vehicle could be the avian Einstein!
The reason I’ve leapt to the defense of the term “bird-brained” is that Gwyn, the host of our newest edition of I and the Bird, blogs about Bird-brained Stories. By this, she must mean enthusiastic, sincere accounts of human-avian interaction, which happens to be what our humble carnival is all about. So check out Gwyn’s wonderful site, starting with her superb Prairie Home Companion-themed I and the Bird #14.
Do you have a few bird-brained stories of your own? Put them on your blog and share them with the world. Once you do that, be sure to submit your scribblings (and photos) to the next I and the Bird. Send in a link and brief summary to me or our next host, Aydin of Snail’s Tales. IATB #15 is scheduled for Thursday, January 19 which makes our next deadline Tuesday, January 17.
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