There aren’t many things birds cannot do. They can sing, fly, build homes, solve puzzles, predict the weather, have incredible eyesight and hearing, and they are even capable of producing human-like speech. The list goes on.
And in spite of the fact that the last common ancestor between humans and birds probably lived as far back as 600 million years. Despite this vast divergence in common ancestry, birds showcase the intelligence and certain traits comparable to humans. Want to know what the smartest birds in the world can do?
13 Smartest Birds in The World
It’s hard to determine which of the 18,000 bird species that exist today is the smartest. Talents and intelligence vary from species to species. However, there are a couple of birds that do stand out; they are the smartest birds in the world.
1. African Grey Parrot
African grey parrots are an incredibly smart species. They’re capable of using reason to figure out when another animal or human needs assistance and when they don’t.
They’re able to perceive the subtle difference between the situation they’ve been trained for and the one unfolding. Aside from humans, orangutans, and bonobos, only African grey parrots have been able to pass this Prosocial tendencies test.
African grey parrots can amass vocabularies of up to 1000 words and can understand which one to use based on context. In 1950, Irene Pepperberg, a Harvard scientist noted for her studies on animal cognition, raised an African grey parrot to see how many words it could learn to use.
To her amazement, not only did Alex, the parrot, pick up 100 words but was able to grasp concepts like shapes, colors, same, different, and zero. With such a marvelous range of inference, the African grey parrot is no simpleton.
2. Clark’s Nutcracker
The Clark’s nutcracker is a small passerine bird native to the rocky mountains of North America. Nutcrackers have a unique vocalization ability that allows them to mimic the sounds other animals make. This ability has a range of advantages in the competitive playing field of the wild as it can create deceptions.
But what they’re known for is their foraging abilities, hence the name nutcracker. Nutcrackers are experts at gathering and storing nuts, seeds, and figs for the winter.
They have a mind-blowing spatial memory for remembering the hundreds of safe locations where they have food buried. Not only that, but they’re even able to remember the quantity of each storage, which showcases their numerical cognition.
3. Fork-Tailed Drongo
The fork-tailed drongo, also known as the African drongo, is also a passerine bird found in the tropical, subtropical, and temperate zones of the African continent. Drongos often follow around larger herbivores grazing on grasslands. That’s their strategy.
The larger herbivores root out a lot of the insects from their hiding places while grazing and the drongo patiently wait for its cue to swoop in for the prey.
However, drongos also have a reputation for being bullies. They don’t pull punches when it comes to their survival and has been known to steal food from defenseless animals. They’re masters when it comes to stealing while avoiding any confrontation, although in some cases they even dive-bomb and peck other animals to get their food.
4. Eurasian Jay
Eurasian jays have often been dubbed as bird brainiacs for their excellent backyard smarts. Jays are members of the crow family and can be found throughout Europe and Asia. However, jays are a far bigger mystery than crows. They’ve been seen using tools, playing tricks, teaching each other new skills, and some also hold funerals for their dead.
Eurasian jays plan their future, both long-term and short-term. They decide what they want to eat for breakfast the next morning and make the necessary preparations beforehand, storing just the right amount of food someplace safe and close.
One time, a captive blue jay used a piece of paper set at the bottom of the cage to reach food that was outside the case. The other jays saw this strategy and followed.
5. Eurasian Magpie
Magpies are not only one of the smartest birds in the world but also one of the smartest creatures altogether. Their brain-to-body mass ratio is only second to humans and comparable to the smartest aquatic life on the planet and great apes.
Like the African grey, magpies have also been known to imitate human speech. They can use tools, play games, and work well in team activities based on the division of labor. They say an animal’s intelligence is often commensurate with its emotional range, and magpies have been known to form groups to grieve their dead with squawks and cries.
6. Goffin’s Cockatoo
Goffin cockatoos are notorious for being able to open cages to escape, so they usually require extra security in captivity.
A 2013 Oxford University study published in their Science journal investigated the Goffin Cockatoos’ ability to solve mechanical problems. The study involved placing them in a complex puzzle box and showing them a nut that was behind a transparent door.
However, to reach the nut, they’d need to figure out how to undo 5 different types of locks. One of them had to be opened by removing a pin, one of them by pulling a screw, then undoing a bolt, and finally turning a wheel 90 degrees and shifting the latch.
The first cockatoo to crack the puzzle took under two hours, with the others following closely by mimicking the other cockatoos or figuring it out themselves.
Also known as “the clown of the alps” for their bright rainbow-like colors, kea birds are said to have the intelligence of a 4-year-old child. These colorful birds are native to the montane regions of New Zealand and are also the world’s only alpine parrots.
The Institute of Cognitive Biology in Vienna contends that this is the world’s smartest bird species that can rival monkeys in several cognitive tasks.
They are both playful and destructive due to their insatiable curiosity, but even behind their trampling, there’s a clever mind at work. Hikers and farmers living in the region have regularly encountered kea birds opening complicated garbage cans that take humans a while to figure out for the first time and finding ways to open sliding doors.
Jackdaws are like the teacup versions of crows, native to Europe, Western Asia, and North Africa. Being crows, they too possess a similar level of what you might call “street-smartness” because they do live among humans.
Being able to survive in the city amongst humans is rough and requires tremendous cognitive skillets. There has even been an instance of an Italian thief training a Jackdaw to steal coins from a cash machine.
9. New Caledonian Crow
Image source: Pinterest
The New Caledonian crow is the type of bird that will turn your ideas and estimation of animal cognition upside down. Notice how in a game of chess you always have to plan your next few moves to solve a problem? Turns out, crows can do that too.
A recent study by Current Biology tested the New Caledonian crow’s ability to plan a sequence of 3 behaviors whilst using tools to solve a puzzle. To their shock, the crows were able to mentally visualize their plan, keep the location of their tools in mind, study the apparatus, and carry out their plan to solve the puzzle with ease.
10. Pinyon Jay
Pinyon jays are native to the dry mountain slopes and foothill forests of North America, and like the Eurasian jay, have demonstrated a tremendous capacity for learning and problem-solving.
Being jays, they also have phenomenal memory power and can remember hundreds of food hiding spots, both their own as well as that of their mates. They also remember how much food is in each hiding spot and pick the next one to visit based on their appetite or proximity.
Ravens are the most mysterious birds in the world. Because of their dark plumage, they’ve often been symbols for bad omens and death; however, they’re also symbolic of prophecy and insight. This suggests that they’ve always been complex birds.
Ravens can be trained to do anything and sometimes don’t even require training. They’re very flexible learners and learn things on their own, such as manners. That’s right, ravens are birds with etiquette when you raise them well. People have often compared the common raven to chimpanzees and dolphins.
Rooks take after crows in both appearance and intelligence, although you can tell them apart by their nose. Anecdotal evidence suggests that a rook’s cognitive abilities are second to no animal.
They’ve been seen figuring out how to unhook bird feeders and drop them to keep all the food for themselves. They also know how to use strings to pull out food from narrow crevices.
13. Western Scrub-Jay
Image source: Pinterest
Western scrub-jays are endemic to California and the western parts of North America. Much like blue jays and Eurasian jays, western scrub-jays have also demonstrated a level of genius comparable to the smartest animals on the planet.
Their brain-to-body mass ratio is only second to that of humans and a few great apes. Western scrub-jays can remember past events and use them to predict the future. They’ve been observed to ration their food in anticipation of future shortages.
A Few Parting Words
These are the smartest birds in the world, as far as humans know. But birds continue to largely be a mystery. Did you know that sharks, reptiles, crustaceans, and birds are all ancestors of dinosaurs that lived millions of years before humans?
And yet it is the latter, birds, that have intuitive capabilities comparable to humans and can perform a range of human tasks. Many cultures have turned birds into symbols of their highest aspirations in life. The owl for wisdom, peacocks for beauty, and the eagle for freedom and liberty, to name a few.