Comparing the Complex Cognition of Birds and Primates

  • Nathan J. Emery
  • Nicola S. Clayton
Part of the Developments in Primatology: Progress and Prospects book series (DIPR)


At first glance, birds and non-human primates (hereafter primates) seem very different. Birds have beaks, feathers, produce offspring that gestate in shells, and can fly. Primates are covered in hair, have forward facing eyes and grasping hands, and while some are arboreal, none of them can fly. Although there are vast morphological differences between the two groups, there is growing evidence of strong similarities in their mental abilities, particularly in the realm of advanced cognitive processing. This suggestion is initially surprising considering the vast difference between the size and structure of avian and primate brains. Even more surprising is the fact that a number of recent experiments have failed to demonstrate some complex cognitive abilities in primates (including chimpanzees, gorillas, and orangutans) that have been convincingly demonstrated in some species of birds, such as the corvids (jays, crows, ravens, and magpies) and parrots.


Retention Interval Alarm Call Complex Cognition Mental Time Travel Artificial Fruit 
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Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media New York 2004

Authors and Affiliations

  • Nathan J. Emery
    • 1
  • Nicola S. Clayton
    • 2
  1. 1.Sub-Department of Animal BehaviourUniversity of CambridgeCambridgeUK
  2. 2.Department of Experimental PsychologyUniversity of CambridgeCambridgeUK

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