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Birds are as smart as 7-year-old, study finds

Eurasian Jay
Eurasian Jay, a member of the crow family.

If you’re still under the impression that birds are beautiful creatures but lack any intelligence, let this new finding change your mind: Birds are smarter than children in some aspects until the age of 7.

Researchers at the University of Cambridge conducted simple experiments on children between 4 and 10 years old and Eurasian Jays to see just how well the two subjects matched up to one another. In two of the three tests conducted, the birds did just as well as the 7-year-olds.

One of the experiments—similar to the riddle in Aesop’s fable about the hungry crow from more than 2,500 years ago—required the subject to drop stones into a tube to raise the water level to retrieve a prize.

The crows did just as well as the humans until the age of 7. However, above that age, humans learned and were able to complete all tasks much quicker.

Despite the fact that birds still can’t do things that children can—like reading—the fact that their associative learning and problem-solving abilities match up until 7 years old is remarkable.

The one task the birds failed at was putting stones in tubes again, but this time, the bottom of the tubes were hidden so they looked like two completely separate tubes. Unlike the birds, the kids were able to figure it out, despite the task seeming impossible.

Here’s more from one of the authors of the study:

According to Lucy Cheke, first author of the publication, the main purpose of the study was to see whether birds and children learn in the same way. She says that, based on the results, it seems they don’t: the birds were unable to learn when something apparently impossible happened, while children were able to learn about what was happening even if they had no idea how it was happening.

“It is children’s job to learn about the world,” Cheke says, “and they can’t do that when they are limited by a preconceived idea about what is or is not possible. For a child, if it works, it works.”

What separates the development of birds from children appears to be the realization of the impossible. Birds tend to be completely pragmatic while children aren’t limited by the seemingly impossible.

Still, the next time you need to get out of a bind or figure out the solution to a problem, a crow may be more helpful than a small child.

Timothy Martinez Jr. is a writer and freelance journalist. His work has been published in The Times-Picayune in New Orleans, Remapping Debate in New York City and other publications. He’s been a bird lover since he was young and currently lives in New Orleans, L.A.

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