UA researchers say this part of birds' brain grew as they evolved to fly

By Matthew Casey
Published: Thursday, February 1, 2024 - 5:08pm

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Baby and adult bald eagles nesting in Canada
Mark Newman/Getty Images
Bald eagles nesting in Canada’s Yukon territory

Only certain animals have developed the ability to fly.

University of Arizona researchers say hyperactivity in the cerebellum of the brain appears to be what makes birds a member of such an exclusive club.

Humans have a cerebellum, too. It helps us walk, run and coordinate interaction with the environment.

“But birds have taken that basic organization and they’ve really cranked up the volume on how much they use it,” said Paul Gignac, UA evolutionary biologist and research coauthor. 

Fossil records suggest that as dinosaurs evolved into birds able to fly, their cerebellum grew in size.

“The thing that was most surprising was that we found an increase in the part of the brain that is used for smelling. We didn’t expect that to happen," Gignac said.

Gignac said future work will study how bird brains work as they navigate more complicated flight paths than a perch-to-perch line used in the latest research.

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