Birdbrains | Government In Action

News of the Weird by Chuck Shepherd

By News of the Weird by Chuck Shepherd

Published August 5, 2016

Birdbrains |  Government In Action

In a recent book, biologist Jennifer Ackerman noted the extraordinary intelligence of birds -- attributed to the dense packing of neurons in their equivalent of humans' cerebral cortex (according to an April Wall Street Journal review of Ackerman's "The Genius of Birds"). For example, the New Caledonia crow, among others, knows how to make and use hooked tools to hide food (and retrieve it from tricky-to-reach places), and the blue jay and others, which store many thousands of seeds during autumn, also steal seeds from less-vigilant birds -- and they even return to re-hide food if they sense they have been spotted storing it earlier. Additionally, of course, the birds' equivalent of the human larynx is so finely tuned as to be regarded as the most sophisticated sound in all of nature. [Wall Street Journal, 4-23-2016]

U.S. Sen. Jeff Flake of Arizona, in a May publication deriding the value of certain federally funded research, highlighted several recent National Institutes of Health and National Science Foundation projects, such as the $13 million for exploring musical preferences of monkeys and chimpanzees; the $1.1 million judging whether cheerleaders are more attractive seen as a squad than individually; the $390,000 to determine how many shakes a wet dog needs to feel dry; and the $5 million to learn whether drunk birds slur when they sing. (Also strangely included was the actually valuable study by Michael Smith of Cornell University ranking where on the human body a bee sting was most painful. He found, from personal testing, that "on the penis" was only the third worst -- research that brought Smith a prestigious Ig Nobel prize last year.) [Fox News, 5-10-2016] [Sen. Jeff Flake, "Twenty Questions," May 2016]