SIZE DOESN’T MATTER
Why a bird’s minuscule brain packs such a potent punch
THE NEOCORTEX is the powerhouse of higher thinking and memory in the human brain. It directs all conscious thought, playing a central role in personality, language, self-awareness, problemsolving, planning and flexibility. Until recently, it was thought that because birds lacked a neocortex they weren’t capable of complex thought and ran purely on instinct. But science has found that the avian forebrain, consisting of the pallium and its various components (such as the nidopallium), has functions similar to those of the mammalian neocortex. More importantly, we now know that some bird brains may pack twice as many neurons into a given unit of mass as do the brains of humans and higher primates. This may allow birds to process and memorise information highly efficiently and may explain why some are as smart as apes and human children.