Have you ever been called ‘birdbrained’ for doing something stupid? Navigating with the map upside-down, losing your phone, or any manner of stupid behaviour can get you labelled as having a brain as small as a bird. But, as you must know by now, size doesn’t matter, and birds are actually one of the smartest animals around. We’ve attempted the difficult job of narrowing down the 5 smartest pet birds out of the 10,000 species worldwide. Many wild birds have demonstrated IQs comparable to humans, but what should you go for your smart, trainable pet bird?
1. African Grey Parrot
Parrots, understandably, dominate this list of brainy birds, and we start with the African Grey Parrot. This bird is often considered to be a genius due to their intelligence which rivals that of a 5-year-old child. While many parrots simply mimic you, African Greys have demonstrated a real ability to communicate.
Most famously Dr. Irene Pepperberg worked with African Greys and found that they could be taught colours, shapes, and numbers. What was most amazing was that they were taught, and responded, using accurate, contextualised speech. They built their own logical sentences, such as one who told an owner ‘You’re good like cake’. Some have even begun to read, of a sort, by recognising and sounding out two letter combinations.
Although these birds can also be a little nervous and socially awkward, they make fantastic pets, not only due to their intelligence but due to their sense of humour and long lifespans of 50 years. This can also make them demanding pets, however, so you must be able to commit to them. But, ultimately, this is a highly rewarding experience as they have been known to sweetly tell their owners, ‘I love you’.
Macaws are so known for their intelligence that one team of scientists has worked to map its entire genome in order to understand it. A female named Neblina from Iowa was chosen for this important task and it was found that she had very many similarities with a chicken. The biggest difference, however, was in brain development and volume, which, of course, is the foundation of her species’ great intelligence
As very emotionally intelligent birds, Macaws are known for their loving and social nature. However, their social nature can also lead them to become aggressive in certain environments. Their other most notable trait is their longevity, which is thought to allow them to live up to 100 years if they are cared for properly. This makes this bird another serious obligation as their intelligence requires frequent stimulus and their longevity requires commitment.
While African Greys are vocally intelligent, and Macaws are emotionally intelligent, Cockatoos are very physically and spatially intelligent. Cockatoos are known for their dexterous behaviour, and a great fun activity for them is ripping things apart in their cage. They are very good at learning complex tricks and have been known for their escape attempts as they are able to figure out and conquer many standard locks. They have also demonstrated an understanding of the concept of delayed gratification, as, when tested, they patiently ignored an immediate treat, in favour of waiting for a better one.
This is not to say that cockatoos don’t communicate intelligently. One breeder noticed one of her cockatoos, named Elvis, communicate with their mate, Mimi, as he chastised her for bumping into him by saying ‘What are you doing?!’. But, the greatest demonstration of their intelligence is in their tricks and jokes, such as imitating phone calls only to laugh as their owner rushes across the room to answer.
This Australian native can vary in characteristics between varieties but is always known for its affection and bond with their owners. This makes them loving, but sensitive, pets that can easily suffer from intense emotional distress if not properly cared for. As they live for up to 70 years, they can make great life-long companions.
Parrots come in all shapes and sizes and sometimes the smallest ones can pack the biggest punch. Although a popular choice as a pet, budgies are often overshadowed by their adorable stature and cheap price. In reality, their curiosity and communication ability has made researchers compare them to the intelligence of a two-year-old child.
There is even a group of researchers dedicated to the study of budgie intelligence. The Budgie Research Group has found plenty of evidence of their ability to communicate in context. Victor, their first subject, reportedly had a vocabulary of over 800 words. Similarly, another subject, Herbert, has demonstrated an understanding of time by exclaiming ‘I can’t wait until four!’ after being told that was the time he would be let out of his cage.
These sweet, happy birds are famous for their dancing and good nature, so it is easy to see why they are so popular. Their shorter life expectancy of around 10 years makes them less of a commitment. However, like all intelligent animals, they require plenty of activity and stimulation to keep themselves entertained and happy.
5. Amazon Parrots
Unsurprisingly, our last intelligent bird is yet another parrot. What can I say? Parrots are clever little cookies! Amazon parrots come in a vast variety, but all of them excel at problem-solving and talking. For example, they are able to forage for food in difficult circumstances, including using their feet and beaks to pull up inaccessible food attached to a string, and they have been known to mimic humans so closely that they are mistaken for other family members.
Their mimicry and communication skills are not often seen in the wild, however, which suggests that many breeds, such as the Blue-Fronted Amazon, require frequent human interaction and a properly socialised bond to develop these talents.
Like many birds, they require companionship from humans and from their own kind, so taking care of them can be expensive and a burden. But, if you know you can commit to these birds, their large vocabulary and sociable nature will keep you entertained for years.