The Telegraph
Since 1st March, 1999
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Birdbrained' Must be smart

Washington, Feb. 1 (Reuters): Birds are not stupid and their brains are not primitive, so it is about time the scientific world gave them full credit, experts said yesterday.

An international group of avian experts took on the slow-moving world of scientific nomenclature, calling for a new map of the avian brain that reflects its true structure.

The current system dates back 100 years and suggests a bird's brain is mostly basal ganglia, and that this area controls primitive brain function and instinctive behaviour.

In fact neither is true ' the bird brain more closely resembles human brains and even so, the basal ganglia is not a primitive region, said Erich Jarvis of Duke University in North Carolina, who led the study. 'Stop calling people birdbrains meaning stupid. Take it as a compliment,' he said.

Jarvis, who studies how birds learn vocalisations, said their behaviour can be surprisingly complex. They can use tools, songs and imitate human language to communicate and can count.

'We believe that names have a powerful influence on the experiments we do and the way in which we think,' the experts wrote in the journal Nature Reviews Neuroscience.

The names scientists use to describe a bird's brain structure date back 100 years to a German scientist, Ludwig Edinger, considered the founder of comparative neuroanatomy.

'A lot went into trying to support the idea of a human's place in the evolutionary scheme of animals. They tried to link it to religion ' a linear system where god created one creature, not good enough, then created another creature, not good enough and then created human ' perfect,' Jarvis said. 'It was a beautiful story but it wasn't true.'

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