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  • Jaejeong & Jaeah Kim

Bird Brain?

Have you ever heard of the phrase ‘bird brain.’ If you thought that was an insult, think again. Research by professor Shigeru Watanabe and Tsukuba University graduate student Kohji Toda testing the self-recognition ability of pigeons gave the surprising results that pigeons, in fact, have superior self-recognition abilities to three year old humans!

In professor Watanabe’s experiment, pigeons were trained to be able to differentiate between two images: (a) a live video footage of the present self, and (b) a video footage of a pigeon that is moving differently from the present self. Once the pigeons learned how to differentiate between the two images, the video footage of (a) was shown with a slight temporal delay, so that the screen shows the image of the pigeon from a few seconds before. Surprisingly, pigeons were able to discriminate (a) from (b) even with a few second delay. This shows that pigeons are able to differentiate the recorded self-footage from the past, and the present recorded self-footage, which means that the pigeons possess self-cognitive abilities.

Professor Watanabe’s study, along with many other studies done on pigeon intelligence, show that pigeons have extraordinary visual cognitive abilities. Pigeons have been shown to be able to discriminate people in photographs, discriminate paintings from one painter from a painting from another painter, discriminate one pigeon from another, and discriminate a drug-stimulated pigeon from a non drug-stimulated pigeon. The level of cognitive ability demonstrated by these studies suggest that pigeons possess self-recognition abilities that easily exceed that of 3 year old humans.

If you ever see a pigeon on the streets and feel an urge to chase it away or mock it, beware– pigeons can tell your face apart from that of other humans, and they will get revenge.


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