If you’ve ever had the pleasure to live or work with parrots, then you know first-hand that they are quite intelligent.
You may have noticed some of the wonderful and amazing things your parrot can do and even wondered to yourself just how their smarts are ranked against other animals.
Most of us have heard that after humans, dolphins are often regarded as the second-most intelligent animal on the planet.
This is usually assumed because of dolphins relatively high brain-to-body-size ratio, which is similar to humans.
As well they have advanced language and comprehension skills, their capacity to show emotions is similar to humans, and they have a highly sociable nature.
But these are also things we’ve seen in our parrots, so you may be wondering, are parrots smarter than dolphins?
The answer to this question is…. Yes and no. You can’t really rank animals by intelligence because they are all designed to do very different things, but there are some areas of intelligence where parrots are just as smart as dolphins, and other areas where they come out on top.
This article will delve into the differences and similarities between parrot and dolphin intelligence, talk about animal intelligence tests, and explain the ways that parrots are actually smarter than dolphins.
What is intelligence when talking about parrots and dolphins?
Intelligence is often defined in human terms and is seen as the ability to learn and apply knowledge, the ability to understand new or challenging situations and the ability to think abstractly.
But in animals intelligence is actually much harder to identify.
We know that our feathery friends are quite smart, just by getting to know them, but just how smart?
Understanding if parrots or dolphins are smarter is quite a complicated question to answer because it’s hard to compare a parrot or a dolphin’s intelligence with our own.
Mostly because we can’t use the same methods to measure both animals, and it’s hard to measure either animal the way we measure human intelligence.
We can’t get either animal to sit a do an IQ test or any other examination as we ask other humans to do.
For a start, both parrots and dolphins don’t have hands and they both communicate very differently from us, and each other.
So how then are parrots and dolphin’s intelligence tested?
What kind of tests are done to understand parrot and dolphin intelligence?
There are a few ways that animals are tested to see just how smart they are, and both dolphins and parrots do quite well on each test, but in a few of them parrots are superior.
The tests used to understand both parrot and dolphin intelligence are very similar to the ones used for human beings, just adapted to either animal.
One test is the ability to recognize yourself in a mirror, which is often used as a measure of intelligence and self-awareness.
Another is to show an animal different colored shapes to see if they understand object manipulation, such as changes in the shape, similar and different shapes, and to see if the animal can understand quantity or even count.
How do parrots compare to dolphins on animal IQ tests?
In tests, dolphins have demonstrated their ability learn and even apply their knowledge, understand new situations, and think abstractly.
Because of this most scientists agree that dolphins are very intelligent.
Dolphins are notoriously talented at mimicking and are very quick learners, they demonstrate self-awareness, problem-solving, empathy, innovation, and teaching skills.
And parrots do all of these things, just as well.
As any parrot owner knows, your bird can pick up on what you are doing and copy you with ease, learn new routines, and show empathy when we are sad or upset.
Parrots are very good at symbol manipulation just like dolphins, and they’re capable of figuring out complex intellectual concepts.
In most tests where parrots and dolphins are able to be examined similarly, parrots score just as well as dolphins, and even better in a few.
The mirror test
The mirror recognition test is one a test that dolphins are famous for passing with flying colors.
The skill to recognize yourself in the mirror is actually very rare and few animals are able to recognize themselves.
In fact, human children only start showing signs of self-recognition at about 12 months.
But dolphins are able to recognize themselves in a mirror even earlier, at only seven months old.
With this test, parrots are one of the few animals known to have passed the benchmark mirror test just like dolphins.
Parrots have shown excellent cognitive abilities including being able to differentiate that they are an individual and have control over their behavior.
Both parrots and dolphins will inspect themselves and look at parts of their bodies in the mirror that they can’t usually see, showing that they truly understand they are looking at themselves.
Both parrots and dolphins are known to play around in front of the mirror as well, twirling and posing in funny ways in order to examine their own movements in the mirror.
These behaviors indicate the self-awareness of a highly intelligent species.
Other animal intelligence tests
In other tests of intelligence, parrots are actually superior to dolphins.
Though known to be some of the smartest animals, there are some areas where dolphins are outwitted by parrots.
Parrots and dolphins are able to be taught many tricks, but when it comes to problem-solving, parrots are superior to dolphins.
In fact, parrots have a better grasp of rudimentary concepts than dolphins.
For example, we all know how dolphins can do amazing jumping tricks, but when there is a barrier between a dolphin and a treat, one high enough that they cannot swim through it to get the treat, but low enough that they can jump through, the dolphin will be stumped and can’t figure it out.
Parrots, on the other hand, are amazing problem solvers, and puzzle solvers, and can even understand the concept of cause and effect which dolphins cannot.
Parrots are able to identify and name various objects, sometimes up to 50 in a test, they know different colors, and can even count.
Parrots also can understand the concepts of “different” and “same,” which very few animals are able to do, and dolphins struggle with.
Parrots can talk and dolphins can’t, does that make parrots smarter?
As parrot owners know, many parrots are able to speak and communicate with us.
Parrots can produce complex vocalizations, as can dolphins, but unlike dolphins, parrots can speak a human language.
In fact, African Grey parrots, known as the Einstein of parrots, can learn a rather impressive number of human words and even use them in context to communicate with us.
Some people assume that parrots are not actually communicating in human languages but merely imitating the sounds they hear.
An example of this is the classic saying of,
“Polly wants a cracker,” where the parrot doesn’t actually know what it is saying, but rather has learned to associate those sounds with receiving a cracker afterward.
Although this seems like speech, it isn’t actually a conversation, and instead shows their learning and the amazing ability of association.
However, studies with the African Grey parrot have shown that some are able to associate words with their meanings and form simple sentences, which is much more than mimicking sounds.
Compared to the dolphin, who can produce a range of squeals, chirps, clicks, and whines, human languages are too difficult for them to recreate the same sounds.
Parrots have a much superior syrinx which can create a very broad range of sounds that the dolphin cannot, which helps them to communicate with us.
Dolphin communication is likely similar to parrot’s ability, but because they cannot make sounds that are like human language, parrots only seem to be much more advanced.
But it is important to note that African Greys have proven that they are able to have much more advanced conversations.
Why are parrots so smart?
Parrots are very intelligent animals, and although their brains are small when compared to other smart intelligent animals such as dolphins, a parrot’s brain is highly developed and efficient.
Parrots have small but very powerful brains that are capable of complex cognition, and it turns out that their genes have played a large role in their brain development which is very similar to the genes that evolved to give humans large brains.
Parrots are capable of flight navigation, language, complex social relationships with other birds and humans, problem-solving and adaptability.
New research suggests that parrots, like dolphins, are capable of mastering complex intellectual concepts that human children cannot handle until age 5.
Dolphins are known as the second smartest animal compared to humans, but maybe it’s time we reconsidered that.
While they’re undeniably smart animals, they certainly aren’t the only smart animals out there.
All of the parrot’s abilities prove that if parrots aren’t smarter than dolphins, they certainly are just as intelligent.