Black-Capped Chickadee Grows Brain Tissue to Survive Harsh Winters

A popular bird species, the palm-sized black-capped chickadee, has an astonishing ability to survive brutal winters by growing brain tissue instead of feathers. This extra brain power helps the bird remember the site where it buried the food item for sustenance. When it gets hungry in the winter, the bird returns to these burial sites.

Some chickadees are able to grow the brain by nearly one-third by adding new nerve cells, enabling them to recall hundreds of spots where the food is buried. According to the National Library of Medicine (NLM) of the US government, these birds are able to achieve this incredible feat because the memory portion of their brains, the hippocampus, is designed to increase in size.

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“The total size of the chickadee hippocampus increases in autumn and winter as does the rate of hippocampal neurogenesis. The hippocampus is necessary for accurate cache retrieval in food-storing birds and is much larger in food-storing birds than in non-storing passerines,” the NLM said on its website.

This ability could cause humans to envy the bird as they experience “senior moments” as they age, which causes them to forget things they held in their hands or kept somewhere. “To see this happen under natural conditions is truly awe-inspiring. Our hypothesis is that this exaggerated growth occurs when the birds need it the most,” Colin Saldanha, assistant professor of biological sciences at Lehigh University, told Science Daily.

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This supercharged memory thus allows this tiny species of bird to survive in harsh winters. The bird is found in large areas of northern US and southern Canada and is identifiable by its black-coloured head, and small body.

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