4 Incredibly Intelligent Birds

Birds are often seen as rather stupid creatures.

Terms like ‘bird-brain’ hardly help their reputation as simple creatures, yet they are often capable of far more than we think.

These 4 species of bird have proved beyond a doubt that they are far more than bird-brained:

African grey parrot

The grey parrot is an animal that has been officially listed as endangered in certain parts of the world. Calling it’s home in equatorial Africa, this species has been used extensively by the pet trade partly due to it’s highly intelligent and sensitive nature. Indeed, this species of parrot was even used for a landmark study in avian intelligence that spanned thirty years.

Animal psychologist Irene Pepperburg bought an African grey parrot from a pet shop in the 70s and proceeded to spend the next three decades teaching him over 100 words, a task that was previously thought to be beyond the capabilities of a bird. By the time Alex (short for avian language experiment) passed away at the age of 31, he was deemed to have developed an intelligence equivalent to a 5-year old child.


Hardly the most elusive or rare of creatures, the pigeon is a common species of bird that is often seen as being stupid. Commonly referred to as ‘flying rats’, they’re considered as vermin in many parts of the world and are often subject to cruel acts by the human population – this is particularly tragic when you stop to consider the vital role that they have played in human communication over the years.

Numerous studies and centuries of research have confirmed that pigeons’ memories are extremely well organised. Despite their reputation, it has been proven time and time again that there’s no better bird to deliver messages than the pigeon. They have excellent Geo Location skills combined with an uncanny ability to remember people and their locations.


A bird that has come under threat over the last few decades, the kea has developed something of a poor reputation in it’s native land of New Zealand. Up until 1986 this large parrot (standing at half a metre tall when fully grown) was hunted for bounty after local farmers suspected them of attacking their sheep. Today the species is considered to be in a vulnerable state with estimated figures lying somewhere in between 1’000 and 5’000.

The kea is known to be a naturally curious and adventurous bird. Affectionately known as the ‘clown of the mountains’ these colourful birds are always eager to pry and pull apart things that they find. They’re even known to tamper with stoat traps, having been caught on camera several times inserting small sticks to trigger loud noises, which they apparently enjoy immensely.


Seen as a dark omen by many cultures and religions, the raven is perhaps one of the most underestimated common variety birds. Often roosting together in large groups, these animals has one of the largest brains in the bird kingdom. Their hyperpallium is much larger than usual for a bird, giving them incredible problem solving abilities and other cognitive skills such as imitation and insight.

The common raven has been known to combine all of these skills in combination to steal small items. As young birds they are intensely attracted to shiny things (a fascination that dissipates as they age) leading to birds stockpiling odd trinkets such as golden rings, oven knobs and even money!

So, before you dismiss birds as being a little stupid, stop and think about how well you’d measure up with a kea or a raven!

The Cuckoo’s Call

Have you heard the one about the disappearing cuckoo?

I’d like to tell you that this is a setup for a brilliant joke that will split your sides, but unfortunately, it’s not.

The common cuckoo, although not yet considered to be a species under threat by the international community, has nonetheless been missing from the English countryside for the last few decades.

There was a time when the calling of the common cuckoo would herald the beginning of Summer, especially in the South and South East of the country. The arrival of this migratory bird, which winters in the warmer regions of Africa and Asia, has long been the sign that Summer has arrived. The call of this bird was even the subject of a yearly write-in competition with The Times, with readers competing to be the first to report the first call of the cuckoo in the country.

Although many commentators have been bemoaning this as another failure of the UK government for a lack of attention to the country’s green spaces, the reason for the drop in English cuckoos might just go beyond a lack of breeding areas.

The readers of The Times and the observant bird fanciers of Britain might well be aggrieved at the loss of this bird’s iconic call, but the absence of the cuckoo might well prove to be a blessing in disguise.

The hikers and walkers of England might well miss the huge variety of calls that the common cuckoo makes in order to communicate the reach of its territory, but you can guarantee that other birds in these habitats will be much happier for it. The majority of cuckoos are brood parasites. Instead of building their own nests, they hatch their own in the nests of other birds and trick them into raising their young.

If this sounds like a rather cruel twist of evolution, then you would be right. Unfortunately, it does get crueller.

The cuckoo has evolved to mimic the egg of it’s target host, meaning although it’s eggs are often much larger than the victim’s own, they appear to be almost identical. Within the seconds of discovering an ideal host nest, the cuckoo will swoop down, hatch an egg and then kick out any other eggs inside.

Even after the infant cuckoo has hatched, this killer instinct doesn’t disappear. The newly hatched bird will instinctively use it’s back to roll out any competing eggs, so that it will be the only mouth to feed in the nest. Although it’s hard to condemn any animal for their instinctive behaviour, it’s hard not to feel slightly relieved that this species has dropped in numbers in the UK.

Before you fear for the future of the cuckoo, take some time to look at the case from an international perspective. Although the last estimate for breeding pairs might seem a little low at around 16,000 – it’s important to remember that this is a species that has many subfamilies that live and migrate all across the world.

Rest assured, there are millions of cuckoos happily breeding throughout the world, just be glad they’re not pillaging the nests of British birds!


5 Birds of the World We’re Looking For

Part of our mission here at NTS Seabirds is to seek out and find certain species of birds.

Whether these are endangered species that need to be catalogued or simply a particular breed that one of us has a soft spot for – each year we each set our targets and head forth into the world to find them. 

All of us here at NTS Seabirds travel on small budgets, we have full-time occupations and spend our annual leave on expeditions to the disparate corners of the globe – in search of the birds that we long to see. These are the birds at the top of our list this year:

Rainbow lorikeet

A true beauty and wonder of nature. Although this particular breed has been introduced to New Zealand and Hong Kong, it’s more commonly found in Australia, it’s native country. Easily recognisable by it’s vibrant technicolor plumage, one of us is going to have to make a long journey in order to find it in the coastal bush of Australia.

Grauer’s broadbill

First spotted and named in 1909 by British zoologist Walter Rothschild, this bird, sometimes known as the African green broadbill, is something of a black sheep. Although Rothschild originally thought of it as a ‘pseudo’ broadbill, it is today regarded as a genuine member of the genus and one of just a handful of it’s kind that live in Africa.

Austen’s brown hornbill

Named after the famed topographer and mountaineer Henry Haversham Godwin-Austen, this large species of hornbill is found in the far flung forests of Asia. Northeastern India, Southern Vietnam and Northern Thailand are all viable destinations to find this species which is known for it’s varied diet that includes fruits, eggs and even bats or snakes.

Slender-billed curlew

Breeding in the swamps and marshes of the snow forests of Siberia, this critically endangered creature is recognised by it’s short small body, brown heart-shaped spots and long narrow bill. The Slender-billed curlew is growing more elusive with each passing day this is compounded by the fact that it is a migratory creature, calling no particular part of the world home. It can be spotted in Western Europe, Canada and even Japan.

Steppe eagle

Favouring the dry, arid habitats of desert and the Savannah, this grand bird of prey breeds in the cooler climates of Romania and Russia before heading to it’s preferred hotter climes. Mostly feeding on carrion, the Steppe eagles are also known to pick off small rodents and other birds. Although this species has now been given the conservation status of ‘threatened’, at the right time of year migrations can be witnessed in Nepal of as many as 15 birds per hour. We can only hope that we’ll get so lucky!

Although we’re yet to spot any of these creatures, 6 months of the year still remain and we’re confident that we’ll be able to spot these birds before 2017 is out.