It can be challenging to ascertain the intelligence of birds, as the parameters will vary for different species. Some of them can mimic human speech, though whether or not they understand the context of what they are saying is often up for debate. Others will use tools to acquire food and solve problems. Some birds, like crows, have been trained to count up to 3, but whether or not this is actual intelligence displayed by the bird or an acquired behavior through training is still under question.
In general, it is believed that corvids and parrots are extremely intelligent. But they are not the only ones.
List of the Smartest Birds in the World
African Gray Parrot
African Gray Parrots are brilliant and known for their exceptional cognitive abilities and ability to mimic human speech. Their cognitive abilities are believed to be similar cognitive power to that of a 5-year-old human child.
Like their fellow corvids like crows and ravens, the Blue Jay is intelligent enough to avoid predation and has adapted well to human presence. These birds are inquisitive and have displayed the capability to use tools ranging from paper clips to straws. Their intelligence also extends to their feeding habits, as they trick ants into releasing formic acid onto their feathers, removing their bitter taste for consumption.
Not only can these tiny parrots learn how to sing, mimic human speech, and learn tricks, but they are extremely affectionate towards their humans. They can remember many things over a long time. Their intelligence is believed to be around that of a 7-month-old human child.
As a member of the Corvidae family, Clark’s Nutcracker is pretty intelligent, which is on full display in their feeding behavior. These nutcrackers feed on pine seeds by holding the cones in one or both feet and cracking open the cones with their strong bills. They also do the same with rotten logs to search for beetles.
Cockatoos have displayed the cognitive ability of “object permanence,” i.e., they can tell an object is still there even if it is out of sight. Some, like Goffin’s Cockatoos, carry around tools to solve whatever complex problems they may face.
Whenever the intelligence of birds is discussed, the crow cannot be left out. Crows can do it all: the ability to recognize human faces, a long-term memory, tool usage, problem-solving skills, planning for the future, and adaptability to any situation. They can even understand analogies and communicate in large groups to make a decision. Scientists estimate their intelligence to equal that of a 7-year-old human child.
Also known as the Western Jackdaw, this member of the Corvidae family mates for life, has a social hierarchy, communicates clearly with others of its species, and keeps its surroundings neat, indicating an idea about hygiene. They also prefer living artificial structures, meaning they have adapted well to the presence of humans.
The Eurasian Magpie, or Common Magpie, is extremely intelligent as it has a brain-to-body ratio second only to humans and equal to other primates and aquatic mammals like cetaceans. These birds also display a lot of emotional intelligence, which is highly apparent when they are seen mourning in groups when one of them dies.
The Fork-tailed Drongo is known for its calls – specifically the ones it makes to trick other birds into leaving by making them think they are in danger. They do this so that they can steal their food, a behavior called kleptoparasitism.
While not talkative like other parrots, the kea displays its intelligence differently, like having a rudimentary understanding of probability, letting them make a decent guess about how a particular event might play out. They are also very inquisitive and will use their beaks to probe anything and everything in search of food, which has historically led to them being a bit of a nuisance in their native New Zealand.
The intelligence level of most macaws is comparable to that of a human toddler. They have problem-solving skills, can use tools, communicate with their own species and other birds, utilize sounds, and even display physical changes, like the white portions of their face blushing.
It is no surprise that multiple species of raven, members of the Corvidae family, are regarded for their intelligence. A study claims that ravens develop cognitive skills by the time the chicks are 4 months old. Besides that, these birds are believed to be even more intelligent than other primates like chimpanzees and gorillas.
The Red-billed Chough uses tools to access food, such as breaking open the shells of mollusks or reaching into trees for insects.
Western Scrub Jay
Western Scrub Jays are known to plan for the future, a trait known as metacognition, which was believed to be previously exclusive to humans. They will save food in caches, with some birds having up to 200. This also indicates a good memory as these jays will return to these sites before the food in them has decayed. It may even re-hide the food if it feels that another bird saw it do so the first time.
A corvid found in the Western Ghats of India, the White-bellied Treepie is known for its adaptability. Like other corvids, it will use tools and communicate with others of its kind.
The intelligence of the Woodpecker Finch is on full display in their foraging behavior. They will use a twig, a stick, or even a cactus spine to dislodge grubs from crevices inside trees to compensate for their short tongue. This has earned them the nickname “tool-using finch.”
Are Birds Truly Intelligent?
Bird intelligence is displayed in various ways. However, like a lot of other species, birds will only get to display their intelligence in an environment that can stimulate it.