BirdMinds Mail Bag
Correspondence about Bird Intelligence
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I took this picture behind the my house in Lake County, FL. I took it with an old Olympus 4.3 pxl with a 10X zoom. I had no idea what it was. I finally found it on your site. Thanks for all your hard work and compilation of those birds.

Bill Overbay


I thought you might have interest in seeing my European Starling (Sturnus vulgaris) using an aluminum foil ball as a tool to transfer food from his powdered dog food dish to his water dish.  He's been doing this for probably a couple months now.  He is 6 months old.


I suspected he was uncommonly intelligent when I kept him as a fledgling (I help rehab starlings).   Enjoy!

Richard Smedley

Barely B Films


Some Observations from a Rapter Centre in the UK:

I would agree with those that say owls are not exactly the Einsteins of the bird world.

Having worked in an animal centre and watched the behaviour of owls it occurs to me that they are efficient, programmed killers. This compares directly the computer, which is an efficient, programmed calculating engine which has no intelligence. It will carry out the same series of actions over and over again regardless changes in the surrounding environment - such as cars etc.

I would compare the owl's hunting action with that of the Harris Hawk - and find it wanting. The Harris Hawk hunts in pairs or triplets, one chasing, say, a rabbit to the others who wait in ambush. That shows intelligence and planning, that can be modified to suit circumstances, over mere repeated observation and action.  I will say that they were the only birds of prey at the centre that "played", pouncing on leaves blowing by in the wind. Play is essential for learning coordination skills etc. as a youngster, but most birds (and most people unfortunately) seem to drop it when they mature.

A joke that went aound the centre was that owls had four brain cells: one for hunting, one for eating, one for sex and one for sleeping.


A report from the mountains of North Carolina by Tim R. about one crow's favorite food:

I used to work in the kitchen of a resort center and we threw away ridiculous amounts of food. There could be 20 to 30 crows hanging around the back of the kitchen. One time, a crow was taking beak-fulls of food at a time and flying off to nearby trees and sticking the food in holes in the trees presumably to eat it later on. Cauliflower seemed to be a favorite for this bird.

At least one person with raptor rehabilitation experience was willing to stick up for Owl Intelligencel below:


I am emailing you in regards to your web page about owls on birdminds.com. On the page you state, "most owls are dimwits. The screech owl pictured above accidently blundered into my car..." This sounds as if you are suggesting that the owl hit your car out of stupidity, which is not true.

Most injured owls are hit by cars but it has nothing to do with stupidity; quite the contrary, it has to do with the fact that they are smart, and efficient predators. Owls realize that the roadside is a good place to hunt (because our apple cores, candy wrappers, and other assorted garbage attracts all sorts of tasty critters). Once an owl spots its prey it will site both its eyes on it one at a time to accommodate for parallax. After the owl has sited in on its prey it will not take its eyes off of it until it has hit it or missed it. The owl is so focused on its prey that it does not even see a car come around the bend. The fact that so many of these birds are hit by cars is a consequence of their understanding and hunting ability, not their stupidity.


Sam Whited
Georgia Institute of Technology
Physics Undergraduate swhited@gatech.edu

This letter povided the inspiration for the Willy Wagtail page.


I work at a public science centre in Western Australia. This afternoon I witnessed a Willy Wagtail engage in some very interesting behaviour. The bird had entered the downstairs shopping centre via a pair of large glass automatic doors and was hopping around feeding off food scraps. Apparently full, he took flight over to the doors. Without actually touching the glass, he apparently ascertained they were closed and landed on the ground in front of them, then hopped off to one side. He waited for around 20 seconds until a patron walked up, then took flight and headed out of the doors as they slid open. Apparently, according to shopping centre staff, he has been doing this daily for years. He will wait outside until a patron trips the door sensor and will use the same process to exit! Quite fascinating, and indicates intelligence beyond that traditionally ascribed I would say.

David Satterthwaite ScienceNetwork WA Editor Scitech


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