Bird Brain: The Cognitive Skills of Birds

Instructor:  Howard Torrey

  • Thursday Morning
  • 9:30 – 11:30 AM
  • Suggested Reading

We will survey recent studies on the intelligence of birds starting with the amazing language skills of Irene Papperberg’s parrot, Alex. We will then discuss skills such as navigation and nest building in light of debates about conscious vs. genetically programmed behavior. Much time will be devoted to the corvids (jays, crows, and, especially ravens). These birds gather their tools before they can use them, demonstrating behaviors which suggest consciousness and intelligence. They also follow carnivores such as wolves and polar bears to share in their kills; they may actually lead those carnivores to prey or dead carcasses. We will view a number of videos showing the skills of these birds.

No class limit. It is suggested that students acquire and read the following book before the first class: “Alex and Me” by Irene Papperberg available for $4.50 from World of Books, $8 from Amazon.

Howard Torrey received a Ph.D. from Iowa State University and has spent 30 years as an independent scholar in animal behavior and evolution theory. He has taught several courses at Senior College.