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ETpro's avatar

Bird brain? Who says birds are stupid? [See video].

Asked by ETpro (34216 points ) June 13th, 2012

Check out this video of whale watchers observing a pod of orcas in a feeding frenzy. Doesn’t it make you wonder why supposedly bright humans use “bird brained” as an insult meaning stupid?

Talking about the witless, do you think the whale watchers have any idea just how far an orca can jump to grab a tasty morsel? Granted humans are the alpha predator of the planet. But orcas are known to return the favor when the opportunity presents itself. How much risk are these whale watchers facing?

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7 Answers

syz's avatar

I’m confused – are you asking if humans are bird brained?

There are some fascinating studies of tool use in crows (corvids seem to be the geniuses of the bird world), and I love this video of a crow utilizing traffic flow to crack walnuts.

And there are the famous studies by Dr Pepperberg with Alex the African Grey (who has since expired).

On the other hand, doves seem to be one of the stupidest animals in existence. I guess there’s a wide range.

As far as human/orca interactions, did you happen to watch Frozen Planet? The “making of” portion showed some video that seemed to be incredibly risky as far as being in small boats in the midst of hunting behavior by orcas. The videographers seemed to indicate that if the pod was a “fish eating pod”, then they didn’t have to worry about predation. I was dubious.

ucme's avatar

Cuckoo & dodo are also ferquently used in this way, it’s the humble donkey I feel sorry for though, dumbass being just one glaring inaccuracy.

ETpro's avatar

@syz No, I was asking why humans are so brainless as to use “bird brained” as an insult to someone’s intelligence. I’d seen the video on crows, and some other footage on Alex. Griffin and Einstein were new to me, and I thoroughly enjoyed the explanation of Dr. Pepperberg’s continued work. When you think that these animals are accomplishing these mental feats with brains the size of our fore-thumb, and that they have the mental horsepower left to manage survival and airborne navigation over daunting distances, it’s truly humbling.

@ucme We’ve got plenty of humans that seem dumber than a dodo, so I’m not sure that even those less-than-stellar avian IQs qualify the entire subclass, Neornithes, for their reputation as being stupid. After all, they have been around (as in survived) since the age of the dinosaurs. We humans can boast 4 million years at best. And given the way we’re going, it isn’t at all clear how many million more we will last.

As far as donkeys and mules are concerned, their reputation for being stubborn is probably a sign of their intelligence, not lack thereof. I wish I could find it now. I read a fascinating true story by a WWII army scout who was riding a donkey on a treacherous mountain trail at night. The mule suddenly came to a halt. The soldier thought it was utterly vital that he continue on and get his report back to headquarters ASAP, so he dismounted and proceeded to beat the hapless animal in an attempt to get it to move, but it stubbornly stood its ground. Finally in frustration, the soldier unrolled his pack and slept out the night. The next morning upon awaking to the first rays of dawn, he clearly saw that the donkey had stopped two steps short of walking over a cliff where the path and whole side of the mountain had been blown away by an explosion.

JLeslie's avatar

I think we just associate smaller brains with less intelligent ones, especially in the past, so bird brained is another way of saying small brained or stupid. There is some truth to the smaller the brain the dumber the animal. Or, the smaller a certain area of the brain is the less elaborate the functioning. But, it is not a perfect correlation.

ETpro's avatar

@JLeslie It seems that brain size is not that good a predictor of intelligence. Whales and elephants have brains far larger than humans. Granted they are intelligent, but not necessarily mnore intelligent than a crow.

JLeslie's avatar

@ETpro Yeah, that is why I say some truth, and not that it is the end all be all indication of intelligence. For instance, the people who have super memories, remember every memory of every day. When brain scanned scientists were surprised to find the part of the brain that holds memory is actually larger in them. They figured they would find nothing obvious, that it would never be that easy. Well, still not easy, they are still researching it. I know very very little about the brain, so I don’t know if a large animal woth a large brain doesn’t use all the grey matter? Or, if the parts of the brain for keeping the body systems working is larger, but the thoughtful parts of the brain are smaller? I have no idea.

Yetanotheruser's avatar

@ETpro I have worked with both horses and mules. While horses do have a certain amount of intelligence, their loyalty is legendary. There are many stories told of a horse pushing itself to the point that its heart literally burst from the stress. This was not an uncommon thing in combat-trained war-horses. Mules, on the other hand, are rugged, and I agree that their stubbornness is due their intelligence. They know when they need to rest, and will usually not take any argument about it!

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