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Bird Brain (2017)Bird Brain (2017)

Many birds are incredibly beautiful, but are they brainy? Calling someone a "bird brain" is an insult, but this one-hour PBS-NOVA documentary suggests that's really not accurate. In fact, scientists in this movie show that birds have advanced problem-solving skills that we wrongly think are unique to humans, and that in some cases exceed those of little children. For example, parrots can plan for the future, jackdaws can “read” human eye movements, and crows can solve multi-step puzzles with tools like pebbles, sticks, and hooks. The movie posits a basic contrast between instinctive behavior that is innate, like geese "imprinting" on their mother, or mass swarming behavior, and conscious intelligence that birds use to learn skills. There's also the possibility that what looks like "intelligence" might be a sort of parlor trick taught by the birds' trainers. But birds really do have brain power. Put another way, this film raises basic questions about the nature and definition of intelligence, emotions, social group learning, inference, and co-operation. The next time I see the crows, hummers, and finches in my back yard, I'll watch them more carefully! This is a fantastic film for kids and family movie night. I watched it on Netflix.

Dan Clendenin:

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