Sky Minds

Gay Bradshaw · March 29, 2016

Instructor: G.A. Bradshaw, PhD, PhD
Dates: Available now: Self-paced lectures with live discussion.
Prerequisites: None
Tuition: TBA

The online classroom experience of the Sky Minds covers concepts and topics from neurosciences, natural history, ethology, and psychology to explore how birds think, feel, and experience consciousness. The course is intended for individual bird advocates, carers, rescue, sanctuary, and conservation workers and professionals, students and others committed to bird well-being and self-determination.

Historically, ethology (also called animal behavior) has been used to study nonhuman animals with psychology being reserved for humans. However, the discovery of Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) in free-living elephants has brought all vertebrates including some invertebrates under a single conceptual umbrella, trans-species psychology.

The course uses this new cross-species lens to try and obtain an “inside looking out” view of avian experience as best we can. From this vantage, we explore bird cognition, emotions, and experience and associated philosophical underpinnings, points of debate, ethics, and future directions for the field. The course seeks to address common questions such as:

  • Can Parrots and domesticated birds ever find happiness in captivity?
  • Are captive raised and reintroduced parrots the “same” as wild parrots?
  • Are humans and other species “enough” for birds in captivity or do they require companionship of their species?
  • Do all birds in captivity suffer trauma?
  • How do psychological versus behavioral approaches to birds differ?
  • What does bird sentience imply for how we live with and care for our avian kin?


Gaggle of geeseThe course content is based on three radical changes in scientific understanding:

  1. Bird brains are not “less than” mammals. The brain structures and processes of Parrots, Chickens, Turkeys, and other birds are comparable to those of humans despite having evolved along separate, but parallel trajectories
  2. Mental and emotional well-being of all animals is relationally-based. Our minds and brains develop and thrive inter-psychically
  3. Understanding birds by their behavior alone is incomplete. Birds and other animals, including humans, are psychological beings

These principles are illustrated during the course with case studies and applied to practical, day-today concerns. Sky Minds is part of The Kerulos Center’s Aves Sagradas project and reflects our mission to support bird dignity and freedom.

Course Organization

Sky Minds is self-paced and online consisting of six video lectures. As a self-paced (asynchronous) course, learners can listen and view at their own pace and time zone. Each lesson is comprised of a video lecture with companion exercises, readings, study questions, and links. We recommend that you start by watching the video lecture, then continue to complete readings, other videos, and supplemental materials. When assignments are completed, send as Word documents to the instructor via email. After receipt, the instructor will send comments to you for discussion in a follow-up meeting together.

We also suggest that you make a set schedule and fixed meeting day and time with the instructor. For example, study and complete one lesson every two weeks and meet with instructor on intervening day. As questions or new articles, videos, or other links are encountered, jot them down to discuss.

Approach and Philosophy

Material in the course may prove challenging intellectually and, at times, emotionally. It is the purpose of the study questions, exercises, and journal to review, reflect and process material covered in the lectures, videos, and readings. Course material functions as conceptual “handrails” to guide thought and discussion. A diversity of media and perspectives are offered for this purpose. Beyond the usual accountability that attends formal study, this course requires a special commitment because of its subject matter: nonhuman animal minds and lives. It is therefore critical to be able to understand and articulate the material accurately and be mindful of any projections or assumptions. It is vital to approach the course material with focus and respect because it pertains to other animals’ (birds’) lives and you are an ambassador and voice. Much is written, filmed, and discussed about birds, but because they are excluded from full participation in human society (e.g., do not have comparable legal protection, exclude because their native language and customs are not human), birds suffer from misrepresentation.

Because modern ways of thinking, acting, and speaking have been defined by difference from other species, the shift to a trans-species, species-common view implicitly involves a metamorphosis of identity, perception, and culture. As past assumptions are shed, new insights will accrue and so will our understanding of other animals as well as ourselves. Learning in this course is dynamic, balancing an established body of knowledge with new insights and revelation. As such, the course requires rigor and attention to detail while at the same time encouraging you to be open to any new perspectives and ideas that may generate.

Trans-species psychology was developed as a way to approach and communicate the best we can what bird experience, culture, ethics, and values in a collectively accessible medium, namely science. This provides a “third-party” perspective to evaluate diverse human opinions and experiences with birds.


The learner will study and explore five main topics:

  • Principles of trans-species psychology
  • Avian neuroanatomy
  • Parrot and domesticated bird mental and emotional development
  • Sources, symptoms, and diagnosis of psychological trauma in birds
  • Practical and ethical approaches to trauma recovery as they apply to caring and living with birds in captivity, reintroduction, and conservation.

Course Resources, Requirements, and Evaluation

In addition to required readings and videos, there are study questions.


There are two required texts, Elephants on the Edge: What Animals Teach Us About Humanity (Yale 2009, referred to hereafter as “EE”) and Carnivore Minds: Who these Fearsome Animals Really Are ( Yale 2017), referred to as “CM.” In addition to chapters from EE and CM, each lesson includes journal articles that fortify lecture topics with more examples, specificity, and greater detail. You are expected to spend three to four hours reading weekly. Readings provide source material referred to in lectures and will be useful in your assignments. If you wish to read other, related articles, please let me know and I will do my best to provide additional resources and citations.


Begin listening to the first video lecture. Main lesson video lectures orient you to the subject matter covered in the lesson by introducing key concepts and theories that are discussed in more detail in the Readings or other supportive videos. Most lecture videos begin with a review from past lectures. Additional videos are provided that expand on subjects introduced in the lectures in more detail. into the subject matter.

Study Questions

In each lesson you will be asked to answer five associated study questions. The interdisciplinary nature of the course material means that you will need to learn and integrate concepts and language from neurosciences, psychology, and animal behavior. At times, you may be asked to research a topic via the internet and library. Always include formal references (i.e., book or journal article title, author(s), date of publication, pages, and if a reference is sourced from the internet, you are required to provide some information including link address and the date you retrieved the article).

You will also be asked to share and communicate these ideas in diverse contexts. For these reasons, you will be asked to answer each question in two ways: (1) a strict scientific definition or formal answer with citation; (2) the same answer written in your own words as if you were trying to explain the concept to someone sitting next to you on the plane or bus who has no prior knowledge of the subject. For example:

Question: Define attachment.

Formal scientific answer: Attachment is early, first stage socialization that occurs between an infant and his/her caregiver/parent and is responsible for key neuropsychological development. (See page 428 in Bradshaw, G.A. & A.N. Schore. 2007. How elephants are opening doors: developmental neuroethology, attachment, and social context. Ethology, 113: 426–436.)

Informal answer: Attachment is the bond between a parent and baby that shapes how the brain and minds develop.


Evaluation of these assignments will be based on the following criteria. The criteria will be used in a holistic manner, as some may apply only to some of the questions each week:

  • Follow assignment instructions
  • Define terminology accurately and clearly
  • Answer questions accurately and clearly
  • Use scientific course terminology accurately
  • Use references appropriately

About Instructor

Gay Bradshaw

Dr. Bradshaw holds doctorate degrees in ecology and psychology, and has published, taught, and lectured widely in these fields both in the U.S. and internationally. She is the author of Pulitzer Prize-nominated Elephants on the Edge: What Animals Teach Us about Humanity, published by Yale University Press, an in-depth psychological portrait of Elephants in captivity and in the wild. Dr. Bradshaw’s work focuses on trans-species psychology, the theory and methods for the study and care of Animal psychological well-being and multi-species cultures. Her research expertise includes the effects of violence on and trauma recovery Elephants, Grizzly Bears, Chimpanzees, and Parrots, and other species in captivity.

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Course Includes

  • 6 Lessons