PerspectiveNeuroscience

Birds do have a brain cortex—and think

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Science  25 Sep 2020:
Vol. 369, Issue 6511, pp. 1567-1568
DOI: 10.1126/science.abe0536

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Summary

The term “birdbrain” used to be derogatory. But humans, with their limited brain size, should have known better than to use the meager proportions of the bird brain as an insult. Part of the cause for derision is that the mantle, or pallium, of the bird brain lacks the obvious layering that earned the mammalian pallium its “cerebral cortex” label. However, birds, and particularly corvids (such as ravens), are as cognitively capable as monkeys (1) and even great apes (2). Because their neurons are smaller, the pallium of songbirds and parrots actually comprises many more information-processing neuronal units than the equivalent-sized mammalian cortices (3). On page 1626 of this issue, Nieder et al. (4) show that the bird pallium has neurons that represent what it perceives—a hallmark of consciousness. And on page 1585 of this issue, Stacho et al. (5) establish that the bird pallium has similar organization to the mammalian cortex.

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