Long mocked as empty-headed, our feathered friends hide surprisingly acute intelligence. But how smart are they? Viewers get the chance to watch as scientists test avian aptitude and challenge our basic notions of intelligence in the NOVA Bird Brain DVD.
Call somebody a “bird brain” and you’re not delivering them a compliment. But as the program shows in this highly entertaining special, birds turn out to have advanced thinking skills that we usually assume are unique to humans. Watch astonishing tests of avian aptitude: parrots that can plan for the future, jackdaws that can “read” human faces, and crows that can solve multi-step puzzles with tools like pebbles, sticks, and hooks.
Could these just be clever tricks, based on instinct or subtle cues from their human handlers? To rule out any doubts, the program puts feathered Einsteins through their paces and reveals skills that even three- or four-year-old children have a hard time mastering – such as empathizing with each other or putting off one reward now to get a bigger one later. From this revolution in thinking about our feathered friends, the conclusion seems irresistible that bird brains see the world in ways that aren’t so different from our own.
NOVA Bird Brain DVD-$24.99