Memory. At first glance, it’s easy to think that memory is generally a function and ability exclusive to us humans. After all, we people are the ones who remember people, events, or form memories that we look back on after many years. However, according to science, most creatures throughout the animal kingdom also have memories of varying degrees.
So, do birds have memory? The answer is yes, and studies show that birds’ brains are similarly wired to our own. However, the type of memory they have depends on the species. For example, navigating birds have long-term memories, while some only remember what they need to survive. Out of all birds, however, nutcrackers and pinyon jays have the best memories.
This article will go over bird memories, how their brains work, what kind of memories birds can store, and everything in between.
Can Birds Remember?
Suppose you’ve already taken care of and trained a pet bird before (or even currently have one). In that case, you know that domesticated bird species not only have good memories but are also extremely intelligent, being able to recognize faces and memorize routines like feeding times. However, this memory goes far beyond pet bird species, as even wild birds have this.
Essentially, bird memory varies by species, and how that memory functions is based on what evolutionary paths they have taken.
For example, the common birds that we see flying around the neighborhood have enough memory to help them remember where the local feeders are, as their brain dictates that it’s a reliable food source.
However, these smaller, local birds often don’t have enough memory akin to bigger, predatory species like hawks and eagles. These birds often have specialized memories that they use to catch their prey.
On the other hand, migratory birds that fly around the world year after year are not only capable of long-term memory but are incredibly gifted at navigating. Often, these birds memorize migratory patterns and journeys to ensure they don’t get lost, even as the terrain changes.
They also use celestial cues like their sense of smell and the Earth’s magnetic field to navigate before switching strategies like looking for landmarks (like trees or bushes) they memorized as they near their destination.
And then there are hyper-intelligent bird species like crows, ravens, and even domesticated parrots. For example, crows and ravens not only remember the faces of the humans they have previously interacted with but even “gossip” among their respective flocks.
On the other hand, parrots can memorize words to imitate them and are known to be capable of remembering previous owners thanks to their long-term memory.
Another example is Honey Guides, which actually recognize people and lead them to beehives to get honey as a reward. So as you can see, birds use their memory in different ways.
Additional reading: How to Tell if Your Bird is Happy
Are Bird Brains Similar to Ours?
While they are significantly smaller, studies have shown that bird brains share many of the same characteristics as our own. While they have been on a different evolutionary path compared to us, bird brains help them learn and remember to communicate, recall songs, and even position themselves in flocks and family units.
Furthermore, their brain waves even show the same patterns as ours while they’re asleep, and also learn how to use tools, solve problems, and recall places to survive. Thanks to research, we know that behavior like reasoning, learning, planning, or even empathizing is not exclusive to humans but instead shared with other animals like birds.
So while birds aren’t capable of complex thoughts to help them build a computer as we can, what they know is enough to help them survive and continuously adjust to changing environments. That’s already equivalent to a very resourceful human.
What Bird Has the Best Memory?
In general, bird memory depends on species, and how long their memory lasts depends on how much they need to use it. Some have short memories, while some species are capable of long-term ones. Some bird species also use spatial memory, and there are even chicks that use collective memory to guide them to their parents.
As per previous studies, however, the bird whose memory has outperformed every other avian family member is Clark’s nutcracker. A passerine bird native to western North America, this woodpecker is reportedly capable of burying around 30,000 seeds in thousands of underground caches and being able to come back and remember where they are during winter.
According to the research, the bird uses spatial memory to recover these caches when food is scarce, as their survival is exclusively dependent on the locations of these caches. What’s more, these birds hide seeds as far as 20 miles away from where they collected them, proving that they’re also gifted at navigation.
Additional reading: 10 Best Talking Birds for Beginners
How good is a bird’s memory? According to studies, birds possess excellent memories despite having tiny brains. This allows them to recall places and landmarks, recognize people, navigate routes to find the best food sources, etc.
How long is a bird’s memory? It all depends on the bird species. For example, common birds can remember locations and food sources for up to six months or more, while one study saw wild birds remember a novel task for at least two years. And then, some studies suggest hyper-intelligent birds like ravens can remember individuals for at least three years. In general, all birds have basic memories, and how they can retain that memory depends on how much they need it to survive.
What bird has the best memory? Studies have shown that Clark’s nutcracker, otherwise known as the woodpecker crow, has the best memory. Multiple bodies of research have proven that this bird can hide thousands of seeds in various storage caches underground only to come back during winter to eat them. For a bird as small as Clark’s nutcracker, this is nothing but an incredible feat.
As you may have learned, birds are vastly intelligent creatures capable of storing memories for different reasons. Some use it for interaction, some for navigating routes, while some use it to remember food storage.
So, the next time you see someone get called a “bird-brain,” tell them that it’s actually a compliment!