Crows are no bird-brains. Behavioral biologists have even called them”feathered primates” because the birds make and use tools, are able to remember large numbers of feeding sites, and plan their social behavior according to what other members of their group do. This high level of intelligence might seem surprising because birds’ brains are constructed in a fundamentally different way from those of mammals, including primates — which are usually used to investigate these behaviors.
Actually, it shouldn’t be a huge conceptual leap that intelligence can be instantiated in different types of brains.
The Tübingen researchers are the first to investigate the brain physiology of crows’ intelligent behavior. They trained crows to carry out memory tests on a computer. The crows were shown an image and had to remember it. Shortly afterwards, they had to select one of two test images on a touchscreen with their beaks based on a switching behavioral rules. One of the test images was identical to the first image, the other different. Sometimes the rule of the game was to select the same image, and sometimes it was to select the different one. The crows were able to carry out both tasks and to switch between them as appropriate. That demonstrates a high level of concentration and mental flexibility which few animal species can manage — and which is an effort even for humans.
We should be thinking in terms of minimum configurations irrespective of phylogeny rather than a hierarchy (tree) of intelligence featuring with primates at the top, then mammals, then birds.
Then lowly reptiles, then the squid comes along and blows it all out of the water.
So who stole the tree of intelligence? Admittedly, we like the view better without it. But for interest, is it the same people as stole the tree of life?
See also: Animal minds and ID definition of intelligence
Guided evolution: Bird brains predate birds