Pigeons Shown To Have Number Sense
December 23, 2011 by UPI - United Press International, Inc.
OTAGO, New Zealand, Dec. 22 (UPI) — Pigeons can match primates in their numerical abilities, such as putting numbers in order, New Zealand researchers say.
Scientists at the University of Otago said their experiments showed pigeons can compare pairs of images picturing as many as nine objects and order them from the lower to higher number with a success rate above chance.
Until now, only humans and primates were thought to possess the ability to use abstract numerical rules in this way, lead study author Damian Scarf said in a university release Thursday.
“Our research not only shows that pigeons are also members of this exclusive club, but, somewhat surprisingly, their performance is on a par with that of monkeys,” he said.
In experiments, the pigeons were presented with 35 sets of three images — each with one, two, or three objects of different sizes, colors and shapes. When they pecked the images in the correct ascending sequence, they were rewarded with wheat.
In further experiments they were presented with images of one to nine objects and still demonstrated the ability to order them.
“While this is obviously a long way away from how humans can count, it shows that an animal with a brain structured quite differently to ours is still able to perform complex mental tasks of which only humans were once thought capable,” Scarf said.
“Our findings add to a growing body of evidence that pigeons are among a number of avian species exhibiting impressive mental abilities that really do give the lie to the old ‘bird brain’ insult,” he says.