“This pretty much answers the question we began with: How can these birds be so clever with such small brains?” study coauthor Pavel Nemec of Charles University in Prague told The Guardian. “The answer is that there are so many neurons, their computing power is comparable to that of primates.”
To count the brain cells in each bird specimen, Nemec and colleagues dissected the animals’ brains and dissolved them in a detergent to make a mixture one researcher called “brain soup,” according to Science. The researchers focused on the pallial telencephalon because the region is involved in behaviors such as tool use and birdsong.
The bird neurons were much smaller and more densely packed than those in mammalian brains. This may allow the birds to be lighter for flight, the researchers wrote in their paper.
“These new findings could definitely help to explain why some birds, such as jays, crows and ravens, excel in their cognitive skills,” Andreas Nieder of the University of Tübingen in Germany, who was not involved in the work, told The Guardian.