How can birds, with their tiny heads, be so smart? This question (often cloaked in scientific jargon) has perplexed researchers for years. Processing power takes up space: the more neurons, the better. Why do you think gigantic supercomputers are so much stronger than laptops?

So what underlies birds' cognitive feats-- such as tool manufacture, problem solving, future planning, mirror self-recognition, vocal mimicry, and more? 

Efficiency. 

Bird brains are jam-packed with neurons. Per unit mass, a bird brain has far more neurons than a monkey brain. This means that a parrot's walnut-sized brain is the cognitive equal of a far larger monkey brain. Plus, each neuron in a parrot's head is closer to other neurons-- meaning that its brain can more quickly process information.

The authors conclude that "the nuclear architecture of the avian brain appears to exhibit more efficient packing of neurons and their interconnections than the layered architecture of the mammalian neocortex." 

Translation? Bow to your future avian overlords.

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Many thanks to Martina Schiestl and Greg Guitchounts for finding this article