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Question Corner : How different are the brains of birds from those of mammals?

Ravens recognize themselves in a mirror,

These birds are known to even plan for the future. Studies have shown that pigeons can be taught to recognize English words and can learn spellings.

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Now, another study (Science, September 2020) shows that birds have a more organized brain than previously thought. The cognitive skills of mammals are related to the cerebral cortex. But birds don’t have this cerebral cortex, they have a region called the pallium, and studies on this region have now revealed new information on its architecture.

Using a special technique called 3D polarized light imaging, the team studied the orientation of individual nerve fibers. They studied the brains of 42 homing pigeons, nine barn owls, a rat, a velvet monkey and one human. They found that the brains of the birds had an organization similar to that seen in mammalian brains. The fibers were seen to be arranged horizontally and vertically, just like how they are arranged in the neocortex region of the mammal brain. They conducted another study to examine the interconnection of cells in the sensory areas of bird brain and found connections similar to mammal brains.

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According to the team of researchers led by Martin Stache from Ruhr-University Bochum, Bochum, Germany, there is a possibility that both mammals and birds independently developed similar microcircuits by means of convergent or parallel evolution. The study addresses how mammals and birds perform such similar perceptual and cognitive feats.

Published in The Hindu on 08/03/2021. In this article “How different are the brains of birds from those of mammals”?