Battle of the Birds: Birdbrain Trivia

citizen science, birds, Battle of the Birds, Eyewire, ornithology, macaw, parrot
Photo by Doug Kelley on Unsplash

“Birdbrain” may sound like an insult because many birds’ brains are, well, tiny. But in fact, proportionately speaking many bird brains are very large, and meanwhile some bird species are startlingly intelligent, exemplified by two orders of visually contrasting feathered friends: the parrots in order Psitticaformes, and the ravens, crows, jays, and their relatives in family Corvidae. Let’s take a moment to learn just how smart these birds are!


Polly want a cracker? This order includes just over 400 species, and most of them are vibrantly rainbow-hued. Macaws, cockatoos, cockatiels, conures, budgies, any other parrot you can think of. About a third of these species are unfortunately endangered, but some conservation efforts are proving successful. Parrots have often won a place in humans’ hearts because of how they can mimic our speech, and as highly social species they have complex personalities and affectionate behaviors.

Did you know, though, that some of the most intelligent parrots might be among the least colorful ones? The grey parrot, native to equatorial Africa, has just a bit of bright red in its tail, but maybe the grey is there to symbolize all that grey matter in its head. Some of the best known animal communication research was conducted by Irene Pepperberg with the grey parrot known simply as Alex, during his lifespan from 1976 to 2007. There is continued controversy over whether Alex really understood all the words he learned to use or was just working from rote memorization; however, his memory itself must have been excellent, as he could produce at least 100 words. The creativity of his vocal expressions was long noted, including an incident where he identified an apple as a “banerry” — Alex didn’t remember “apple” yet, but he seemed to combine words for fruits he knew better, like bananas and cherries!


Just say “corvid” and people will think of birds that are decidedly the goths of their world, like all-black, scavenging crows, ravens, and jackdaws. The corvid family also includes the bright, multi-colored magpies and jays, however! And all of them are just as intelligent as parrots.

In fact, some corvids might be as intelligent as apes where tool use is concerned. Corvus moneduloides, the New Caledonian crow, have been observed not only using objects in their environment as tools, but specifically creating tools by combining otherwise nonfunctional components. Different populations of New Caledonian crows also display cultural variability in how their tools are engineered, and in what the crows prefer their tools to be like. When you consider this sort of thing in tandem with how ravens have exceptionally versatile syrinxes (the bird version of larynxes) that allow them to mimic human voices with alarming precision, there’s something about corvids that’s uncannily humanoid. No wonder they strike some folks as creepy!

But whether you like parrots or corvids more, on Eyewire we’re going to celebrate all avian smartypants by running a trivia session in chat! Our trivia bot will toss you questions every hour about ornithology, neuroscience, other scientific topics, and also Eyewire itself. Are you ready?

Trivia How-To: The bot will start firing off questions at 11:00 AM EST on 2/18 and continue until 11:00 AM EST on 2/20, at which point things will finish with a power hour till noon. Submit your answers by typing them into the chat box. Optional: you may submit answers privately by messaging @inquizitor if you do not want other players to see your responses. To do this, type /pm inquizitor before your message.

Bonus info is available in your in-game notifications. Good luck!