The smartest ones stay

Why do some birds migrate to warmer climates in the winter, while others stay behind in the cold? Researchers may have found the answer.

Arctic tern/ Nysgjerrigper 02-2006The red-beaked tern is a world champions in migration, flying from the North Pole to the South Pole – and back again – every single year. Although it has a small brain, it is at least smart enough to conserve its energy to make the long flights. PHOTO: TOM SCHANDY/NN/SAMFOTO

It turns out that the birds that stay put in the winter, are the ones that are smart enough to find new ways of foraging for food. These birds have larger brains than the migratory birds.

Not smart enough

Migratory birds are quite simply not smart enough to find food, so they have to fly south to warmer regions where it is easier to find food in the winter.

Spanish scientists

Spanish scientists have discovered this by studying 134 species of birds in Europe. They have looked at the size of the birds' brains and examined data from other scientists who have spied on the birds to find out how many new methods they use for finding food.

Among other things, they have observed that the blackbird uses a twig to remove snow when looking for food.

Small brain - an advantage

A small brain is actually an advantage for migratory birds that are going to fly long distances. You see, small brains use less energy than big brains, and migratory birds need that energy to make the long flight.

Of course, it well may be that it was the small brains that forced them to fly south in the first place, since they were not bright enough to survive our cold northern winters.

Translation: Linda Sivesind

*Published in 'Nysgjerrigper' No. 2/2006*