Environment Fowl play builds bird brains

Fowl play builds bird brains

Australian scientists have been researching the state of play with bird brains, discovering that, contrary to popular wisdom, it is not tool use that dictates brain mass.

A new study has found that it is social play behaviour that dictates the relative intelligence of birds.

University of New England academic and internationally renowned avian expert Emeritus Professor Gisela Kaplan’s study focused exclusively on Australian birds and included tool-using behaviour and life span as a comparison.

Professor Kaplan said that, despite research that suggests a strong correlation between cognition and tool use in birds, her study didn’t find any significant difference in relative brain mass, or in lifespan, between tool-using and non-tool using birds.

“In contrast, I found clear statistical differences in relative brain mass between birds that engaged in play behaviour and birds that didn’t,” she said.

For the purposes of her study, Professor Kaplan differentiated between two kinds of play behaviour: non-social play (consisting of solo play and object play) and social play.

“Social play was associated with both the largest brain mass relative to body mass and with the longest lifespan,” Professor Kaplan said.

“Such interactions have been observed in fewer species, mostly parrots and corvids, but also include magpies, and is less widespread than non-social play, whereas tool-using behaviour is more widespread across species,” she said.

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