Pigeons were once one of the best-loved domesticated species – the messages they carried were sometimes vital to the recipients, and they were also highly prized as a food source !
The pigeons we have in our towns are mostly descendants of these domesticated birds. Now they are also widely used in research into animal intelligence, as they are very easy to train, and they will work all day for a handful of grain. Another article in New Scientist describes some of their abilities –
- Navigating, and returning to their home
- Memory – they can memorise 100 images, and remember them 2 years later
- Recognize quantity – if trained, pecking groups of objects, smallest group first
- Logic – if A is larger than B, and B larger that C, then A must be larger than C – pigeons can do this for up to 5 objects
- They can recognise different styles of painting
- Recognising character – if there are 2 people of similar size, and one behaves badly towards the pigeons in a park, they recognise that person even if they exchange coats
- Self-recognition in a mirror, and also in a video with a 2 second delay (though not an hour later). Only pigeons, dolphins, magpies and some primates can do this
This is very impressive, but is pigeon intelligence truly thought, or merely training ? Or is there no difference ?