web analytics

Desire to have a bird brain

 

By Ranger Steve Mueller

 

Black-capped Chickadees have an advantage that we apparently do not. They grow new brain cells each fall and get rid of some old cells containing information no longer needed. The cells destroyed hold information on where they hid seeds last winter. The new neurons will store locations for this winter’s seed hiding.

Dr. Fernando Nottebohm of Rockefeller University in New York studies the growth of neurons in the brains of birds. Todd Peterson and Frances Wood shared this information in Audubon Notes.

I suspect studies on other bird species would reveal similar findings. Species visiting my feeders grab a seed and depart to unknown locations. I see birds wedging seeds in tree bark crevasses. White-breasted Nuthatches have long slim bills, a black cap, white underparts, and short tail feathers. They appear quite flat on their upper side. You could place a ruler on their back and it would touch the entire length from head to tail.

A Black-capped Chickadee’s back is more contoured with its head raised higher than its back and holds its long tail at slightly different angles. A ruler would not touch head to tail at the same time. They have gray wings with a white marking along the leading edge of flight feathers. People heading south for winter can see the Carolina Chickadee that looks nearly identical but lacks the white feather edging. 

The three species collect and hide seeds for winter. It is likely studies of the nuthatch and Carolina Chickadee bird brain hippocampus will reveal importance for their spatial memories also. People wonder why spend time and money to learn such things. Some ask, “What good are these species? 

Aldo Leopold said such a question is the height of ignorance. We are all ignorant in most areas of knowledge. Every organism has hidden values. Most benefit them. Not everything is about “me” nor should it be. We know little about the natural world and nature niches. It is not reasonable to assume other species have little value. My friend Bob Raver replied to people asking that question with, “What good are you? 

For those needing a better answer to why learn about birds replacing brain cells, Dr. Nottebohm said, “Studying the ability of a bird’s brain to generate new neurons might uncover ways to replace brain cells lost due to injury, stroke or degeneration, as happens in diseases such as Parkinson’s, Huntington’s and Alzheimer’s.”

I am on a combination of chemos that causes chemo brain, meaning that I have memory impairment from the chemicals used to keep me alive. Fortunately, they do not impair my long-term memory but I have difficulty learning new things or remembering things like what I had for lunch without writing it down as a memory jogger. I am concerned about dementia because my dad and his mother suffered from dementia. For now, I can blame my short-term memory difficulties on chemo. 

My cancer is terminal and not curable but great advances have been made. My oncologist’s goal is to keep me alive until I die from something else. When my multiple myeloma was first diagnosed when I was 47, life expectancy was one to three years and it was likely I would not reach age 50. Fortunately, the blood cancer progressed slowly. By age 57 the cancer caused seven bone fractures in my spine and I was using a walker. I could not navigate stairs. Scientists were studying frogs that could regenerate bones in lost limbs. Doctors used chemicals to help my bones’ regeneration and chemo to slow cancer progression. I do not know if my bone regeneration had anything to do with frog bone research. Today, another ten years later, I am walking without a walker and look reasonably normal except for 30 pounds of weight gain caused by a steroid chemo. 

Practical uses of bird neuron development that helps us is good and desirable. I contend species have their own value and we should not only be concerned with what good are they for us? Instead, ask what value you are for other species. What you do to help other species might help you in unknown ways. It is good citizenship to protect species like chickadees that have a right to share the world even if there is no apparent value to us.

Natural history questions or topic suggestions can be directed to Ranger Steve (Mueller) at odybrook@chartermi.net – Ody Brook Nature Sanctuary, 13010 Northland Dr. Cedar Springs, MI 49319 or call 616-696-1753.

 

This post was written by:

- who has written 14435 posts on Cedar Springs Post Newspaper.


Contact the author

Leave a Reply

*

code

advert
Advertising Rates Brochure
Ensley Team Five Star Realty
Kent Theatre

Get the Cedar Springs Post in your mailbox for only $35.00 a year!