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The Discovery Files - Bird Brain

The Discovery Files
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Being called a "bird brain" should be taken as a compliment.

Credit: NSF/Clear Channel Communications/Karson Productions

Audio Transcript:
Being called a "bird brain" should be taken as a compliment.

I'm Bob Karson with "The Discovery Files" -- new advances in science and engineering from the National Science Foundation.

Birds aren't necessarily getting any smarter. We're just now learning how smart they are. The old school thinking was that while birds are among the most beautiful creatures on earth, evolution had left them cerebrally challenged. If you look at a conventional chart of the regions of a bird's brain, you'll see that it's simple. Almost primitive.

Now Duke University neurobiologist Erich Jarvis and a team of neuroscientists are proposing changes in the way we classify the regions of a bird's brain. Their findings show that birds' cognitive abilities and brain structure are comparable to mammals. Areas once considered to be evolutionary throwbacks are actually sophisticated processing centers for sensory and motor functions.

The scientists are working to rename the regions of the avian brain and revise the hundred year old notion that it is less complex, and that willl have far reaching implications for the future of brain research. How do I know all this? A little bird told me.

"The Discovery Files" covers projects funded by the government's National Science Foundation. Federally sponsored research brought to you by ... you! Learn more at

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