Cognition includes the acquisition, processing, retention of, and acting upon information from the environment. Avian cognition has been investigated by the approaches of experimental psychology and in the context of specific tasks, such as spatial memory. However, the costs and benefits of cognitive ability have not been considered in a life-history context. I explore possible relationships between behaviors that might indicate cognitive function and other attributes, particularly brain size, rate of development, age at maturity, and life span. Large brain size and prolonged development are seen as potential costs of intelligent behavior. Long life span may permit the extended learning periods that support experienced-based cognitive function. Play behavior, which plausibly supports the development of motor and social skills, and, to a lesser extent, foraging innovations, are related to brain size. The challenge of foraging in a spatially and temporally varying environment, experienced for example by pelagic seabirds, is associated with prolonged embryonic development. Although these connections lack mechanistic foundations, they suggest that cognition can be considered as a part of the life history of the individual and that potential costs of cognition might provide guidelines for directing the comparative study of intelligent behavior.
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Vol. 116 • No. 2