“It used to be that people would only talk about intelligence in terms of primates,” says Nicola Clayton, a professor of comparative psychology at the University of Cambridge. “But now I think that birds have achieved a sort of honorary ape status, just with a few feathers attached.”
The intelligence of birds, which sit far from man on the evolutionary tree, has also forced a reappraisal of where intelligence comes from. Scientists once assumed that intelligence evolved out of physical need – animals got smart in order to exploit natural resources. But the brainpower of birds suggests that intelligence is actually a byproduct of complex social interactions. Living in a group requires an animal to juggle lots of information about its peers. So it’s not a coincidence that the smartest creatures are also the most social.
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