What Are The Smartest Birds

Last Updated on September 4, 2023 by Susan Levitt

As an avian expert, one of the most frequently asked questions I receive pertains to bird intelligence. Many people are curious about which birds are considered to be among the smartest species on our planet, and understandably so. After all, we humans have long been fascinated by creatures that exhibit cognitive abilities beyond mere instinctual behavior.

While it is difficult to definitively rank bird intelligence due to the many different facets that contribute to overall cognition, certain species have undeniably demonstrated remarkable problem-solving skills, communication abilities and tool-use capabilities. In this article, we will explore some of the top contenders for the title of "smartest bird" based on recent scientific research and anecdotal evidence from experienced ornithologists across the globe.

Avian Intelligence And Cognition

Avian intelligence and cognition have long been a topic of interest among researchers and bird enthusiasts alike. While all birds possess some level of cognitive ability, certain species stand out for their exceptional problem-solving skills, social complexity, and tool use.

One such bird is the African grey parrot, known for its impressive ability to mimic human speech and learn complex tasks through observation. These traits have made them popular pets, but they also have important implications for avian conservation efforts. By studying the cognitive abilities of African greys in captivity, researchers hope to gain insights into how these birds might think and behave in the wild.

Another highly intelligent bird is the New Caledonian crow, which has been observed using tools – including sticks and twigs – to extract insects from tree bark. This remarkable behavior is evidence of advanced problem solving skills as well as an understanding of cause-and-effect relationships. As with the African grey parrot, research on New Caledonian crows can inform conservation strategies that aim to protect this species’ habitat and promote sustainable resource management practices.

The kea, a type of alpine parrot native to New Zealand’s South Island, is another particularly clever bird. Keas are known for their curiosity and playfulness; they’ve been documented playing with objects like traffic cones and even breaking into cars in search of food or other interesting items. Their relationship with humans has had both positive and negative impacts: while keas have become something of a tourist attraction thanks to their antics, they’re also considered pests by farmers due to their habit of attacking sheep.

In conclusion, there are many different factors that contribute to avian intelligence and cognition – including genetics, environment, social structure, diet, and more. Understanding these factors can help us better appreciate the incredible diversity found within the world’s bird populations while also informing conservation efforts aimed at protecting these fascinating creatures for generations to come.

The Criteria For Ranking Bird Intelligence

Cognitive ability is an important criteria for ranking bird intelligence, as it shows the capability of problem solving and the use of tools. Memory retention and social interaction are also important factors, as they show the bird’s ability to learn and interact with its peers. Language skills, adaptability, innovative behaviors, imitation, creativity, physical dexterity, curiosity, planning, spatial awareness, and synchronization are all important components of bird intelligence as well.

Cognitive Ability

When it comes to ranking bird intelligence, cognitive ability is a major factor that ornithologists consider. One important aspect of cognitive ability is brain size. Generally, birds with larger brains tend to be smarter than those with smaller ones. This means that species such as parrots and crows are often considered some of the smartest birds in the world due to their relatively large brain-to-body ratio.

However, brain size alone does not determine a bird’s intelligence. Problem solving skills are another key indicator of cognitive ability. For example, some birds have been observed using tools to obtain food or solve puzzles in order to access hidden treats. These problem-solving abilities demonstrate higher levels of cognition that go beyond simple memory recall or mimicry.

Interestingly enough, research has shown that birds’ problem solving skills can sometimes be linked to environmental factors rather than innate intelligence. For instance, certain populations of New Caledonian crows living on an island with more complex foraging challenges showed greater tool use and problem-solving abilities compared to those on simpler islands.

In conclusion, while brain size plays a significant role in determining a bird’s overall level of intelligence, problem-solving abilities should also be taken into account when assessing their cognitive capabilities. As our understanding of avian cognition continues to evolve through ongoing research efforts, we may discover even more fascinating insights into what makes certain species particularly adept at navigating their environments and adapting to new situations.

Problem-Solving Skills

As an ornithologist, I believe that assessing bird intelligence requires a holistic approach. Brain size is indeed a crucial factor in determining cognitive ability. However, relying solely on this criterion may not provide an accurate picture of a species’ overall intellectual capacity. This is why we also need to consider other elements such as problem-solving skills.

In particular, the way birds use tools and solve puzzles can reveal their higher level of cognition beyond mere mimicry or memory retention. Tool use has been observed in various bird species, including crows, kea parrots, and woodpecker finches. For instance, New Caledonian crows are renowned for their remarkable tool-making abilities where they create hooks from twigs to extract insects from tree bark.

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Another aspect worth noting when discussing problem-solving skills is social learning. Not all birds have the innate knowledge necessary to complete certain tasks, but some can learn by observing others within their flock or family group. Japanese tits are one example of birds that demonstrate social learning capabilities; those who watched another tit manipulate a puzzle box had greater success than those without any observational experience.

Overall, evaluating bird intelligence should involve looking at multiple factors that contribute to cognitive development. While brain size provides insight into potential processing power, it’s just one element among many that make up avian intellect. By considering the complex behaviors exhibited by different bird species – like tool use and social learning – we can gain further understanding of how these animals navigate their environments and adapt to changing circumstances over time.

African Grey Parrots

Having established the criteria for ranking bird intelligence, it is time to delve into which birds are considered the smartest. There are several contenders, but one species that stands out in terms of cognitive abilities are African grey parrots.

Research has shown that African grey parrots possess high levels of problem-solving skills and can understand complex concepts such as numerical values and linguistic patterns. They have also demonstrated social cognition by recognizing themselves in mirrors and showing empathy towards other animals.

Training techniques for African grey parrots involve positive reinforcement methods such as clicker training and food rewards. This type of training not only enhances their learning capabilities but also strengthens their bond with their human companions.

In conclusion, while there are many intelligent birds, African grey parrots stand out due to their advanced cognitive abilities and capacity for social interaction. Through positive reinforcement-based training techniques, these remarkable creatures can reach even greater heights of intelligence, making them a fascinating subject for avian researchers and enthusiasts alike.

New Caledonian Crows

New Caledonian crows are among the smartest birds in the world. They have gained fame for their remarkable tool use and problem-solving abilities, which surpass those of many other bird species. These crows create tools to extract insects from tree bark or crevices, using twigs as hooks and leaves as probes.

One study revealed that New Caledonian crows can even solve complex problems involving multiple steps. In this particular experiment, researchers placed a food reward inside a box with several barriers blocking access to it. The crows quickly learned how to use sticks to push aside each barrier until they could reach the food.

What sets these birds apart is their ability to innovate new solutions when faced with novel challenges. For instance, if a crow’s usual tool fails to work on a difficult task, it will modify the tool or find an entirely new one altogether. This flexibility speaks volumes about the intelligence and adaptability of these clever creatures.

In conclusion, New Caledonian crows’ exceptional cognitive skills make them stand out amongst all bird species. Their impressive tool-making abilities and problem-solving aptitude highlight just how intelligent these feathered beings truly are. It is no wonder why scientists continue to be fascinated by this fascinating avian species!

Kea Parrots

If you are looking for a bird that is not only intelligent but also mischievous, then the Kea Parrot might just be your perfect match. These birds have managed to outsmart humans in numerous ways and continue to surprise us with their cunning tactics.

Kea behavior has been studied extensively by researchers who have found these parrots to be highly social creatures. They form close bonds with each other and even mourn when one of them dies. Furthermore, they exhibit playfulness, curiosity, and an insatiable appetite for exploration. This makes them quite unique among other avian species.

When it comes to habitat, Keas prefer alpine environments where they can thrive on a diet consisting mainly of plants, insects, and occasionally small animals like rodents. Unfortunately, due to human intervention such as hunting and habitat destruction, their numbers have dwindled significantly over the years.

Despite this decline in population size, the Kea’s intelligence remains unmatched. Here are some interesting facts about these fascinating birds:

  • The Kea is the only known bird species that actively seeks out interactions with humans.
  • They have been observed using tools such as sticks to extract food from hard-to-reach places.
  • Keas are notorious for damaging cars parked near their habitats – they love pecking at rubber parts!
  • In experiments conducted by scientists, Keas demonstrated remarkable problem-solving skills similar to those seen in primates.
  • A group of Keas is called a "circus", which perfectly captures their playful nature.

In summary, if you want a smart bird that will keep you entertained with its antics while also challenging your intellect, look no further than the Kea Parrot. Their behavior and habitat make them truly unique creatures worth protecting for future generations to enjoy.


Ravens are a remarkable species of bird that have gained much attention over the years for their exceptional intelligence. They belong to the Corvid family, which includes crows, magpies, and jays. Ravens stand out among other birds due to their unique ability to use tools, solve problems, and even recognize themselves in mirrors.

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One of the fascinating aspects about ravens is their reputation as tricksters. In many cultures around the world, these birds are seen as mischievous creatures that play pranks on people. This perception has been reinforced by various myths and legends where ravens are depicted as cunning animals that possess supernatural powers. For example, in Norse mythology, Odin had two ravens named Huginn (thought) and Muninn (memory) who would fly across the world every day and report back to him.

Furthermore, it’s not just in mythology where ravens hold significant meaning; they also play an important role in modern-day society. Scientists have studied them extensively due to their advanced cognitive abilities such as problem-solving skills and social intelligence. These traits make them highly adaptable creatures that can thrive in different environments ranging from urban areas to remote wilderness regions.

In conclusion, Ravens are undoubtedly one of the smartest birds on the planet with a rich history steeped in folklore and mythologies worldwide. Their complex behaviors have made them a subject of fascination for researchers studying animal cognition while keeping us humans entertained through stories passed down generations. Therefore if you ever come across a raven or observe one flying overhead next time remember its significance beyond being just another bird!

Blue Jays

As we discussed in the previous section, Ravens are incredibly intelligent birds known for their problem-solving skills and social behaviors. However, they are not the only avian species that exhibit high levels of intelligence.

Blue Jays, members of the Corvidae family like Ravens, also display impressive cognitive abilities. They have been observed engaging in complex problem-solving tasks such as using tools to obtain food. Blue Jays can even anticipate future needs by caching food for later use.

Behavioral patterns differ among avian species but communication techniques play a critical role in the development of any bird’s intelligence level. Blue Jays communicate with each other through intricate vocalizations, including mimicry of other bird calls and human speech. These sophisticated communication methods enable them to convey important information about predators or available resources within their environment.

Additionally, research has shown that Blue Jays possess an excellent memory capacity – a key component of intelligence. They can remember where they cached their food months after initially hiding it away – often beating out squirrels who share similar behavior patterns.

In conclusion, while Ravens may be renowned for their smarts, Blue Jays should not be overlooked when discussing highly intelligent birds. Their behavioral patterns and communication techniques allow them to thrive in various environments while exhibiting remarkable cognitive abilities worthy of admiration from ornithologists worldwide.

Common Mynas

Common Mynas, also known as Indian mynas or Acridotheres tristis, are fascinating birds that have caught the attention of many bird enthusiasts. They are intelligent and highly adaptable birds with a reputation for being skilled mimics. Common Mynas are considered one of the smartest birds due to their exceptional ability to mimic sounds such as human speech.

Myna mimicry is an incredible feature that has made these birds stand out from other species. These birds can imitate various sounds they hear in their environment, including alarms, mobile ringtones, and even car horns. Common Mynas’ capability to reproduce human speech is impressive; some individuals have been trained to say over 100 words!

Breeding behavior among common mynas is equally interesting. These birds form monogamous pairs during breeding season and build nests using materials like grass, twigs, feathers, and fur. Females lay up to six eggs per clutch, which both parents incubate for about two weeks before hatching. The chicks leave the nest after three weeks but remain dependent on their parents for food and protection for several months.

In conclusion, Common Mynas are incredibly intelligent birds with outstanding abilities such as mimicry skills and intriguing breeding behaviors. Their capabilities continue to fascinate scientists who study them extensively across different regions worldwide. As we learn more about these remarkable creatures, we gain a deeper appreciation of their unique features that make them stand out from other species of birds globally.


As an avian expert, I can confidently say that the intelligence of birds never ceases to amaze me. The criteria for ranking bird intelligence includes problem-solving abilities, tool use, social skills and communication.

At the top of the list are African Grey Parrots with their impressive vocabulary and ability to understand complex concepts. New Caledonian Crows have been observed creating tools in the wild while Kea Parrots have shown remarkable curiosity and problem-solving skills. Ravens have also demonstrated advanced cognitive abilities through their use of tools and complex social structures. Blue Jays and Common Mynas round out the list with their adaptable nature and excellent memory skills.

It is important to remember that intelligence varies among individual birds regardless of species. It is our responsibility as caretakers to provide them with stimulating environments where they can continue to learn and thrive. We should appreciate these intelligent creatures for all that they bring to our world.

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