Birds may have a reputation for being birdbrained — but it was superior brainpower that enabled them to survive when 85 percent of animals around them were being wiped out, researchers have found.
Dinosaurs and ancient flying creatures, including pterosaurs, died out during the Cretaceous-Tertiary mass extinction 65 million years ago, but modern birds survived and thrived.
Analysis of fossil skulls using computer tomography (CT) scans has now revealed that modern birds were able to adapt to the new conditions because their brains were so well developed.
It was the ability of birds to work out the solutions to problems, just as blue titmice today learn to reach a creamy treat by pecking foil caps off milk bottles, that gave them the crucial edge. Other birds, such as members of the crow family, have even managed to learn to use tools.
"'Birdbrained' is a dreadful misnomer," said Dr. Angela Milner of the Natural History Museum in London. "It's really quite an insult to birds when you think how sophisticated a lot of modern birds are.
"They can learn to talk, they can migrate over long distances, they have all sorts of capabilities and it all has to be crammed into a brain light enough that it doesn't stop them flying. They were in some ways more advanced than dinosaurs."