Bird Brain

As our knowledge of the natural world deepened from the mid nineteenth century onward it became increasingly implausible to think that humans were in any sense unique or special. Features that had been offered as uniquely human were complex communication, social organisation, capacity for suffering, personality and empathy. These are all now known to be shared by other creatures. One of the last separation lines to fall in the face of evidence has been intelligence and problem solving – the sort of abstract intelligence that manifests itself in tool use. A term had even been invented by paleontologists to describe our hominid ancestors who were capable of tool use. This was ‘homo habilis’ (

Modern studies have revealed that even those creatures we have delighted in denigrating as ‘bird brains’ are capable of problem solving and tool use. This is brought out beautifully in a recent book by Dr. Nathan Emery, a researcher at the University of London ( Emery shows that birds are capable of more than highly complex instinctive abilities. He draws on two decades in which the study of avian intelligence has witnessed dramatic advances. Emery explains how some birds have complex internal worlds as well as their instinctive abilities. Proof is offered from crows, jays, magpies, and other corvids —the “masterminds” of the avian world—as well as parrots and some less-studied species from around the world. We must now attribute birds with mental time travel, self-recognition, empathy, problem solving, imagination, and insight. There may be some people you know capable of less. Are they likely to read this book?

Should an intelligent curiosity lead you to this book enquire at your local library or consult  for further bibliographic detail.


192 pages in Ivy Press

First published 2016

ISBN 978-1782403142


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Dr Nathan Emery

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