Saturday, January 5, 2013

The Chickadee Brain

Are you also the type of person who, in this age of information overload, tucks tidbits of interest into the files of your brain, intending to follow up on them later?   Only to forget until something occurs to jostle the memory files?    Maybe I need a brain more like that of the chickadee, expanding and contracting and adapting as needed by the season. 

So the black-capped chickadees (Poecile atricapillus) are back at the feeders, and so is my memory of  reading something extraordinary about the chickadee brain last year  and wanting to investigate.  Of all the wild birds that visit,  the chickadees seem to be the most fearless and friendly.  In fact, they’re often the only ones that aren’t afraid to approach even after I’ve appeared on the deck, pointing a camera at them.   Frustratingly, they are also among the quickest and most reluctant to pose. 

Research done by Professor Colin Saldanha, now at American University, showed that the chickadee’s brain can grow up to 30% larger during times when they need to find food for storage.  The brain is expanding, adding new nerve cells,  in order to help them remember the hundreds of hiding places where they’ve stored the food.  Then, in the spring, the brain shrinks back to normal size, when their memories are needed less.

Another study, done by Vladamir Pradosudov at University of Nevada in Reno showed that when birds live in harsher conditions, such as Alaska, they not only find more food than those in milder climates, but they’re better at finding their caches, have better spatial memories, and have larger brains than the same species in Colorado. 

I would never say that I want my brain to shrink, but wouldn’t mind being able to shed some of the mental baggage and unproductive ways of thinking that marked the past year.  Out with the old, in with the new!  Make room for more meshugaas!  

Wishing you an open-minded, peaceful and rejuvenating New Year.


tut-tut said...

Long ago and far away (in western Mass), there was a couple who produced something called the Chicka-Feeder, which is a bird's nest on a forked stick. The idea is that you put seed in the nest and the chickadees will eventually come to you to feed.

Have you also noticed how bold and unafraid hummingbirds are? They will come within a foot of my face and look me in the eye!

Happy New Year to you, JGH. I plan on much more blogging and blog reading/commenting in 2013.

Megan Cahalan said...

Oh, nice post. I enjoyed reading it.

k said...

These guys (the chickadees) will sit on the birdbath and look at me till I put water in it. And don't get between them and their food!