Why are over 45 million bird watchers so fascinated by our fine-feathered friends? In her revealing lecture, “What’s So Amazing About Birds?” biologist and ornithology curator, Dr. Allison Shultz, shares some little-known facts about their remarkable abilities:
Allison J Shultz / Natural History Museum of Los Angeles
“There’s this stereotype that birds are not very smart. However, that’s not the case. Being called a “bird brain” is actually a compliment. So, if somebody says, ‘You’re a bird brain,’ you should say ‘Why, thank you!’ So, this bird here: this is an African gray parrot. A researcher at Harvard named Irene Pepperberg has studied these birds for many years. She has shown that these parrots can actually out-perform some 4 to 6-year-olds on certain tests for reasoning, tests for memory, and the ability to count. There was this classic view that a bird’s brain was mostly driven by more primitive behavior. However, more modern views have redescribed the avian brain to actually match the human brain more closely. And so, birds are incredibly smart.
There is one thing that I’ve always wondered that I think is fascinating: how do birds sleep if they are constantly flying? How do they sleep during migration? Some species will touch down — either during the day or during the night — and rest. Some species don’t. So, what do they do? Birds actually can shut down half of their brain and sleep while flying. One fun fact about the albatross: albatrosses only return to land to breed and so they fly years and years at sea before they breed that first time. There are also swifts – a different example. So, birds can either shut off half of their brain or they can take little micro naps. These swifts will take naps that last just for a couple of seconds, but if they take enough of them, I guess that’s enough to allow them to keep going on.”
Birds have fascinated humans throughout history – even today in the United States alone, over 45 million people are bird-watchers. But what makes these feathered friends so interesting – that is, what makes a bird a bird, and how have they adapted to some of the most diverse regions around the world? How do birds sense the environment around them and how do they navigate the globe? Join ornithologist and curator Dr. Allison Shultz to delve into the biology of the over 10,000 species of modern-day dinosaurs that surround us – birds. Learn all the amazing facts about birds today!
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Dr. Allison Shultz is an evolutionary biologist, Assistant Curator of Ornithology at the Natural History Museum of Los Angeles, Visiting Professor at the University of Southern California, and Adjunct Assistant Professor at San Diego State University. She integrates research across timescales to gain an understanding of the processes that produce patterns of biodiversity. Dr. Shultz is an elective member of the American Ornithological Society, and has received a number of awards and fellowships, including a certificate of distinction in teaching for her work as a teaching fellow at Harvard University.