Avian cognition from a comparative perspective – an introduction (#197)
Studying animal cognition is becoming a progressively important subfield of the study of animal behaviour. Research has demonstrated that an increasing number of species are able to cope with complex physical problems, show remarkable perceptual abilities and learning skills or have an amazing understanding of social relationships. This includes abilities reminiscent of, or comparable to, those long thought unique to humans. In search for the roots of human cognition, many comparative studies use mammals, from rats to apes, to search for potential homologues that may shed light on the evolution of advanced cognitive traits in humans. The Avian Cognition symposium deals with a phylogenetically quite distant group: birds. Birds are widely studied in research on animal behaviour and behavioural ecology. However, they also provide excellent model species for addressing questions about animal cognition, both in their own right and from a comparative perspective. Recent research has shown that various bird species show advanced cognitive abilities that match those of mammals up to the level of primates. Also, bird brains, although different in structure from mammalian brains, have undergone a parallel evolution towards brain areas analogous to the mammalian cortex. This symposium aims for an exploration of avian cognitive abilities: What are they like? In my introduction, I will focus in particular on the comparative question: to what extent are the abilities of birds similar to those of mammals and what, if anything, can birds tell us about human cognition and its evolution? I will do so by selecting a few telling examples, also illustrating how research on birds has helped or may help to provide hypotheses about human cognitive abilities.