• Melissa Kramer

Bird Brain; Compliment or Insult?

What Does Science Say?

By definition, the term “Bird Brain” refers to an annoying, stupid, and shallow person. But where did this common definition come from? Are birds dumb? Some birds may be perceived as annoying, but what knowledge do we have to say that birds are similar to shallow human beings? Anthropomorphize much?

I went digging. How smart are birds? What are some of the smartest bird breeds?

The smartest wild birds and smartest pet birds, according to science.

Let’s start with the domesticated breeds, as it has been shown that wild birds are actually extremely smart in some cases. Some of the smartest pet birds are the African Grey Parrot, Macaws, Cockatoos, Budgerigar, Conures, Green Amazons, Parakeets, Quackers, Lovebirds, Canaries, Finches, and Bantam Chickens. Wow, what a list. And that is only some of them! And yes, you read that right – CHICKENS! And speaking of chickens, although hey have a reputation of being clueless or “bird-brained” they are far from it! Read more about the intelligence of chickens here.

As for the wild birds, the list is just as long. Some of the smartest wild birds are Crows, Ravens, Choughs, Jays, Magpies, Treepies, Rooks, Nut Crackers, and Jackdaws. There is even an entire subspecies of birds named the whip-smart birds, in contribution to their “smarts”!

How have we learned about and created a list of smart birds? Well, there was this awesome gentleman named Louis Lefebvre, a behaviorist at McGill University in Montreal studying bird intelligence, who actually created the Avian IQ test. It was believed, even by him that this IQ test would prove to have undetermined results- but the outcome was astonishing as they have seen solid reoccurring results. The test is designed to gauge a birds IQ based on how innovative the bird is when faced with different challenges. His winner for the smartest bird was the American Crow, also known as the Common Crow.

Crows; I have always been fascinated by crows, but what I went on to learn in this bird brain investigation even surprised me. Crows are actually second only to humans in intelligence. What? It has been proven that they are even smarter than apes in some research tests, only slightly lower to humans in these instances. Some of the outcomes from their controlled lab studies and natural habitat observations showed that Crows can make and customize tools, reason, understand casualty, count up to 5 and remember human faces. Check out this amazing video from BBC Earth!

Crows around the World

In Israel Hooded Crows use bread crumbs to bait fish. In Norway and Sweden these Crows have been known to drag fishing lines out of the water to get the hooked fish. New Caledonian Crows are famous for their innovations and tool-making as they commonly make “knives” out of stiff leaves. The Carrion Crows in Japan drop hard-to-crush nuts on the roadway at intersections so that moving traffic will crush them open. While that may not sound super incredible, they also wait for the traffic light to change to red-then walk out in front of the stopped traffic to gather their nuts.

So after digging only a small amount I have come to the conclusion that while the common definition of “Bird Brain” relates to an annoying, stupid and shallow person; we should interpret and perceive the term as a compliment rather than an insult. And who can we get in contact with to change the general perception of the term as a whole? Should we contact Webster’s Dictionary? Still researching that..

We should use our words kindly and respectfully. Once we speak them we cannot take them back. There is no rewind button or tool to shove the words back in once they’ve blurted out. So next time you mistakenly vomit out the words “Bird Brain” in the heat of the moment – pause, take a breath, and remind yourself just how much a crow is capable of. Then inform the other human just how big of a compliment that truly is.human just how big of a compliment that truly is.

Please enjoy these photos of some of HTFS's beautiful feathered friends!

Happy Tails Farm Sanctuary was founded in 2013 by Carla and Harold Moore. It is family run and operated with the help of volunteers. The sanctuary became a registered charity in 2017.

Happy Tails is situated near Harrowsmith, Ontario, on 17 acres of pasture and forested land. They started out as a pot belly pig sanctuary, but very quickly added several different species of birds, and herd animals. Currently 70 animals are living in sanctuary at Happy Tails Farm. Other animals are living in select foster homes across Ontario. Happy Tails Farm is a vegan sanctuary, and believe that all animals regardless of species are important and valued in their own right. They focus heavily on education to not only help teach people how to care for their potbelly pigs, but also to focus on humane education.



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Happy Tails Farm Sanctuary

3225 Wilton Road

Harrowsmith, ON K0H 1V0

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