Karen Davis on Bird Brains

The Washington Post recently published a summary of new research on avian brains that suggests they are more complex than previously believed which, in part, has implications for how birds evolved. Specifically, the researchers found that avian brains are more mammalian than previously believed and call for changing the nomenclature that scientists use to describe the avian brain to reflect this finding.

This, of course, was an open invitation for United Poultry Concerns’ Karen Davis to chime in with her twist on the new findings about avian brains. In a letter published in the Washington Post on February 12, Davis wrote,

Rick Weiss’s Feb. 1 news story, “Bird Brains Get Some New Names, And New Respect,” was deeply gratifying to those of us who spend our days with birds. We have been waiting to see scientific language and understanding catch up with the reality of bird intelligence. I spend my days with domestic chickens and turkeys, birds that have long been denigrated as stupid, despite ample evidence to the contrary. Just watch a hen calculate how to speed to her perch at night to avoid a certain attentive rooster in the way, and you know that a smart chick is looking out for her own interests.

The day may come when to be called a “chicken” or a “turkey” will be rightly regarded as a salute to a person’s intelligence.

I think there’s some opening for common ground here between activists and opponents. I think we can all agree that the chickens and turkeys Davis spends her days with are at least as intelligent as she is. See, we really can all get along.

And I can’t leave this without pointing out that when UPC posted a copy of Davis’ letter to AR-NEWS, they also urged people wanting more information about this research to visit AvianBrain.Org. I promptly followed their suggestion, but was horrified to see what are clearly the results of animal research all over the site, including illustrated cross-sections of the avian brain.

What about the animals who died for just to satisfy the curiosity of these mad scientists? I thought research like this was done just to make researchers rich?


Letter to the editor. Karen Davis, Washington Post, February 12, 2005.

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