Anorak News | Brainy Birds

Brainy Birds

by | 1st, February 2005

‘“PSSST! Wanna a chaffinch? Bullfinch? Yellowhammer? I’ve got the lot. A sparrer? A woodpecker? Ouch! He’s a bit of a handful, that one…”

A bird in the hand is worth around 10 euros

Bird-napping is, says the Independent, one of Britain’s fastest growing illegal trades with an estimated 2,000 finches trapped each summer to be sold into captivity abroad.

“The birds,” it says, “including bullfinches, chaffinches, yellowhammers, siskins and bramblings, are highly prized for their colourful plumage and can be worth from £10 to £100 to unscrupulous collectors.”

And in countries like Malta and Belgium, where the popularity of bird-keeping means demand cannot be met, there is no shortage of people prepared to pay top dollar for the best birds.

A spokesman for the Scottish Society For The Prevention Of Cruelty To Animals admitted that the practice was much wider than previously thought.

“Considering it is possible to catch these birds easily, if you know what you’re doing, it is money for nothing,” he said.

“It also doesn’t carry the same stigma other ‘substances’ do. Appearing in court charged with dealing in a dodgy finch is not going to have the same drawback to being caught dealing drugs.”

But it isn’t just the colourful plumage that makes these birds so attractive to the collector – they are as interested in their brains as their looks.

For the Guardian reports that birds are not as dumb as they are characterised.

Songbirds, for instance, can learn up to 2,000 different melodies; scrub jays can remember things which happened at a specific time and place; African grey parrots can use words and numbers correctly in conversation with humans and pigeons can distinguish between a Picasso and a Monet.

Now, a team of 29 neuroscientists called the Avian Brain Nomenclature Consortium have called for a rethink in birds’ position in the intellectual pecking order.

Tim Smulders, of Newcastle University, said there were lots of very smart birds around.

“It’s about time,” he added, “that people, not just scientists, appreciated birds for what they are – a group of species which has independently evolved brains and cognitive abilities comparable to those of mammals.”’

Posted: 1st, February 2005 | In: Uncategorized Comment | TrackBack | Permalink