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Home > Culture and Society

Feathered friends in 'not thick' shocker

9 February 2005

A few months ago it was fish that were waking slumbering scientists with their gargantuan intellectual capabilities. Now it's birds. Pretty soon there'll be no dim-witted animals left and mankind will have to initiate a global cull for fear of a Planet of the Apes-style coup. George Bush will warn us all of the imminent threat of the Animal Kingdom. He will label them bestial, inhuman, even ungodly. He may even speak of an axis of weevils. 'It's them or we,' he will intone gravely on the telly, as Paul Wolfowitz peels off his human hair and skin to reveal a giant, quite brilliant rat. (No anti-Semitism intended.)

Meanwhile this week apparently, the derogatory terms 'birdbrain', 'featherhead' and 'Stephen Beako' became obsolete as the Avian Brain Nomenclature Consortium of 29 World Neuroscientists declared that birds are *so* intelligent, they make rats, dogs and dolphins look shit.

For ten years, researchers have studied birds from all over the world, both in their natural environments and in tiny little cages. In one of these studies, Japanese pigeons were shown pictures by Picasso and Monet and asked to critique them. Most of the pigeons concooed that Picasso was a right old chancer who got a great deal further than he deserved, and much preferred Monet. One pigeon homed in on the heart-breaking tale of how he'd broken his neck flying into the glass of a Monet landscape. Elsewhere in Science, another researcher observed a crow die of thirst in an attempt to carry pebbles to a pitcher containing an unreachable inch of water. Newcastle University's Dr Tom Smulders spells it out: 'Many people have outdated notions of what birds' brains are like,' he said. 'But there are lots of smart birds who do amazing things... The idea that birds are bird-brained,' he continued, rather labouring the point, 'has been disproved. We now believe it is probably more likely that birds have human brains. Or possible those of dinosaurs.'

Next week: Blair quakes as slug writes best-selling biography.

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