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February 2020 by Terry Verduin

HOW SMART ARE BIRD BRAINS?

“She's perfect”, said Lucy with a great big smile.
“But to teach her to talk will take a while.”
They named their noisy parrot Dolly.
Lucy was thrilled that the name rhymed with Molly.

Parrots are smart. They can speak with meaning, but precisely how smart are bird brains? Can birds help people learn what is smarter than a talking bird?

Foolish?

“Bird Brains” have been given bad meaning. The expression has come to define people of sub-standard intelligence or with annoyingly shallow opinions, beliefs, language capabilities, information sets or experiences.


Parrots Are Smart. African Grey and Blue Fronted Amazons rank highly for speaking quality. Compare the size of a parrot's head to its body. It is of genius proportion. Brain size is an indicator of brainpower.


Good Meaning? Birds and nests represent health and family stability. Like any team member, parrots may need no push to perform. Their evolution from noise to high-level speech may track human skill development.


It All Stacks Up? Parrots live long lives. Their learning process and physical maturation are slow. Chicks depend upon parental feedings and care for one or more years. They must develop a foundation for survival to adulthood.

The Truth?

Rain Dates? Birds acquire knowledge and skills. Some remember harvest seasons and food locations. Others hide and find food. Many feel coming storms and ambient changes. All assimilate and adapt to the living world.


Not My Job? Birds serve as a bridge between freedom of the sky and real-world life. Parrots may avoid work. To rest and have fun, they often leave food delivery to someone else. Smart people also tend to delegate work.


Directors: Cut! The rhythms of dance and musical beats do not evade avian species. All genres of music may not appeal to them. Some genres may be upsetting and disruptive. Others may have calming effects.


Block Chain? Birds work simple math. Rough counts show when they are outnumbered, eggs are missing and food supplies are ample. Calculate Dolly's skills, smarts, talents, creativity, charisma and “it factor”.

What is Smarter than a Talking Bird?

Screen Test? Intelligence tests exist for birds. Studies show team players to be smarter than lone counterparts. Parrots may opt to be contrary or silent rather than answer. They have independent minds, instincts and purposes.


Whistle Blowers? Parrots make many different sounds. Some bird owners, bird lovers and bird breeders complain of the constant noise. Piercing screeches, squawks, whistles, chirps or verbalizations may overwhelm them.


Contributors? Birds deserve credit for sound variety and choice. Elephants have huge brains. They understand human languages, but cannot vocalize them. Parrots decipher emotions, build vocabularies and express thoughts.


Craft Work? Birds solve problems to reach goals. Some species can learn to perform properly on command. All have the intelligence to self-sufficiently achieve goals. For example, they navigate without equipment or maps.

Dream On?

Calling the Shots? Birds symbolize freedom and creativity. These traits may not rank them as highly among people as “man's best friend”. Training can help pets and owners interact with greater empathy and understanding.


About Face? Dreams of chirping birds are said to mean joy and harmony. Some owners may find avian sounds to be nightmarish. These frustrated pet owners may wish they had purchased tranquil fish instead.


Working Order? Birds dig with sticks and pound nuts open. Some work in flocks; some alone. They can tell friends from foes. Unlike dolphins, parrots may not recognize themselves in mirrors, but they admire the reflections.


Glow-Getters? Squawking parrot toys may not excite dogs, cats or all birds. Like people, animals have individualized preferences and differing reactions to conditions, objects, sounds, activities, tastes and companions.

Can Birds Help People Learn?

Reasoning Powers? Dr. Irene Pepperberg studied avian cognition. Her scientific work with parrot, Alex, led her to advocate for birds. Alex was said to have the speech and thought-processing capability of a 5-year-old human.


Natural Selection? Birds are advanced relatives of reptiles and amphibians. Parrots may not match chimpanzees on memory tests. With Dr. Pepperberg's model/rival technique they may help conquer human learning disabilities.


Reverse Reinforcement? Two trainers provide interactive instructions, “model” correct or incorrect responses and “rival” for student attention. Parrots make excellent model/rival teaching examples and support animals.


Fine Focus? Attention helps learning. It takes a lot of time, patience and treats to prepare for camera-ready or live performances. A warm bond and care for an animal's special needs goes into developing the skills of a star.

Word Power?

Luminaries? Talking parrots do not just mimic words. Some copy sounds, whistles and laughter. Others sort objects and images by shape and color. Businesses use animal-talent agents to find perfect feathered actors.


Grand Champion? A parakeet, Chuck, holds the Guinness Book of World records for memorizing a 1700-word vocabulary. Parakeets may not pronounce as well as large parrots, but they seem to enjoy word sounds.


Sheer Luck? Songbirds, like members of the parrot family, are considered vocal learners. Avian cognition tests are incomplete. No tests identify which animals are smarter than others. What truly matters is quick-witted survival.


All the Angles? Parrots vocalize shapes, colors, people and objects by name. They are adept with the use of tools. Tools improve the abilities provided to them by nature and facilitate the accomplishment of necessary tasks.

Treats?

Structured Environment? Praise, treats and consistency of instruction aid progress. It helps to start with simple words and lessons. Different birds prefer different rewards. Preferences rarely demonstrate intelligence.


Dealer's Choice? Learning may come faster when rewarded. The treats may be different, but animals strive to please their handlers. It is important to support behavior and provide feedback for efforts with desired outcomes.


Cascading Effect? Some parrots can learn a few words in two-to-six months. Once a few words are mastered, it is likely for a bird to take much less time to acquire each additional word.


Glory Daze? Training is exhausting. New goals can be added once expectations are satisfied. Each lesson should end well. This type of performance-based training also is employed in human education.

Goals?

Fuzzy Logic? Animal Language may be deeper than human language. In addition to body language and sound, they draw strong senses of smell, touch, chemical and electrical into their communications.


Island Time? Training provides stimulation and discipline. There must be positivity. It is therapeutic to forge relations between learners and trainers. Birds help people appreciate projected outputs and understand nature.


Starlet? Animals treated like stars may become stars. Cornell University Lab of Ornithology applies evidence-based science and conservation-oriented research. It involves communities in management of avian biodiversity.


Chicken Training? The video below has the author's daughter teaching her rooster to use a doggie door. Chickens can be trained. This house pet soon may come and go on his own. The video is from her daughter. (46 seconds)


DOGGIE DOOR - lol