There are many expressions used to describe a bird’s intelligence or perceived lack of intelligence such as birdbrain or silly goose.
These descriptions are inaccurate.
In fact, some species of birds have proven to be quite intelligent and can perform as well as dogs in some tests. I am going to focus on two common bird species found throughout North America with high levels of intelligence.
The rock dove, more commonly referred to as a feral pigeon, is generally not thought of fondly by most humans. This pigeon was introduced in North America from Europe in the 1600s, and has adapted and thrived in urban environments.
Their navigational skills are complex and involve using the Earth’s magnetic field, tracking the sun, hearing low frequency sounds and following smells as a map to their destination. Pigeons have been used to carry messages for thousands of years and were used during both world wars to carry important strategic information.
Pigeon racing is a popular hobby that takes various groups of pigeons from their lofts and releases them at a distant location. The first pigeon to return home is the winner.
Pigeons can find their way home from at least 2,500 miles away. This is impressive considering many humans need assistance from Google Maps to go across town.
The American crow is considered one of the most intelligent birds. There is a fable titled: “The Crow and the Pitcher.” It tells the story of a thirsty crow that finds a pitcher of water but the water is too low to reach. By dropping pebbles into the pitcher, the crow is able to raise the water level so it can drink.
Crows have been observed making and using tools. A captive crow shaped a piece of wood and used it to stick into holes in search of food. They have been observed breaking off pieces of pine cone to drop onto predators below their nest.
A somewhat remarkable talent is the crow’s ability to recognize people’s faces. They associate each person with a good or bad experience and communicate this valuable information to other crows. This possibly explains why crows gather when I step outside even though I may not be filling my bird feeders.
Scientists continue to study birds to help us better understand and appreciate our intelligent, feathered friends.
Mary Schmauss is the owner of Wild Birds Unlimited in Albuquerque. A lifelong birder and author of “For the Birds: A Month-by-Month Guide to Attracting Birds to your Backyard.”