New study: parrots have similar brain mechanisms to humans

A cockatoo uses a little tool he made to reach a snack
A cockatoo uses a little tool he made to reach a snack

OK, it’s a fun Friday post. I guess most of my readers know that I love almost all the birds, and especially parrots. I have owned parrots most of my life, and want to get more, too. I also like to feed the wild birds who come to visit my house. One reason I like them so much is that they are very intelligent and obviously designed by a very clever engineer.

First, let me explain what convergence is, then we’ll look at a recent peer-reviewed scientific publication.

We have to start this Science Daily post with the definition of convergence in biology.

In evolutionary biology, convergent evolution is the process whereby organisms not closely related (not monophyletic), independently evolve similar traits as a result of having to adapt to similar environments or ecological niches.

It is the opposite of divergent evolution, where related species evolve different traits.

On a molecular level, this can happen due to random mutation unrelated to adaptive changes; see long branch attraction. In cultural evolution, convergent evolution is the development of similar cultural adaptations to similar environmental conditions by different peoples with different ancestral cultures. An example of convergent evolution is the similar nature of the flight/wings of insects, birds, pterosaurs, and bats.

All four serve the same function and are similar in structure, but each evolved independently.

So, naturalists say that if two organisms have traits that are similar, it must mean that the trait evolved once in their ancestors, and then the modern species inherited the trait from those ancestors. If evolution is true, the only mechanism they have to develop traits shared by two organisms is mutation and selection. The problems occur when two organisms share similar traits, but they have no recent common ancestor, and no recent shared evolutionary history of mutation and selection.

Here’s the latest study from the New Scientist:

To learn more how these birds’ brains develop, Mello and his team compared the genome of the blue-fronted Amazon parrot with that of 30 other birds. They found that regions of the parrot genome that regulate when and how genes for brain development are turned on are the same as those found in humans. These so-called ultra-conserved elements evolved in both species at different times, but with similar results.

Well, parrots and humans are completely different creatures, with no recent evolutionary history, and no recent common ancestors. So, if these changes are due to evolution, then we should see them in the very very very distance common ancestor shared by birds and humans. But then shouldn’t they be in all the other animals who descend from that very very very distant common ancestor to?

Watch this:

I’ll tell you what the real explanation is: the real explanation is that God created birds and humans. And, like a clever engineer, he re-used components that produced the behavior he wanted in his birds and his humans. We know how this works, because this is how intelligent agents write code today. Why do we need a naturalistic theory that requires magic to work, when we have a simple explanation that we can  observe every time someone writes a blog post, or some code, or anything with information in it?

Anyway, however you feel about that, try to be kind to birds, as they are much smarter and more sensitive than most people think. Put out some bird feeders in the yard, if you don’t have an outdoor cat. And if you do have a cat, then why not put a bell on it, or keep it indoors?

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6 thoughts on “New study: parrots have similar brain mechanisms to humans”

    1. The Gizmodo another article on the crow is fascinating. It goes into how broad their intelligence is. Edward A. Wasserman of University of Iowa has this to say:

      “The fact that the last common ancestor of birds and mammals lived 300 million years ago raises a profound question: was that ancestral species also smart or did intelligence evolve independently? That will be a hard question to answer.”


  1. When faced with apparent contradictions to the single ancestor theory, they (e.g. Carl Woese) just suggest that maybe multiple (semi-)independent forms of life originated at the same time. When faced with apparent contradictions regarding the evolution of intelligence, they just suggest that maybe multiple independent forms of intelligence originated at the same time. These may seem plausible to most, but they are not.

    First, these claims are very difficult to prove. They are just conjecture.

    Second, they don’t work out well mathematically. Given a certain probability that life originated by chance or that intelligence would involve, they conjecture independent paths of evolution. So if P=0.0000000000000000001%, adding 5 different independent species would change the probability to roughly P=0.0000000000000000005% (that is, more selection chances improves the likelihood of “winning”). It’s like buying 10 lottery tickets instead of 1: not likely to make a whole lot of difference.

    You need a ton of lottery tickets to win the evolution lottery time and time again. But there are only a finite number of species that could evolve something as complex as intelligence (e.g. there is a limit to how many lottery tickets you can buy). The lower the random probabilities, the more likely that you ‘cheated’ if you win two or three times in a short time window. In other words, short-term independent evolution opens up the discussion to accusations of cheating. ‘Cheating’ in this context is “a factor other than random mutation and natural selection”.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. It is a common thread in biology that any unexplained genetic change is the result of random mutation rather than alteration of existing genetic information.

      Consider domestication. Biologists think dogs evolved from wolves over a long time period. Yet foxes were domesticated in Russia in less than one human lifetime. Why? Because the genetic information for domestication already existed in the genetic profile. It was not mutated.

      There is genetic evidence to suggest that skin color has “evolved” between black and white more than once. This implies that skin color change is a matter of genetic expression of preexistent genetic information.

      The more evidence science gathers, the more it runs into genetic information that is either too old or too young to have developed by random mutation.

      Liked by 1 person

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