Scientists have observed pigeons, our urban neighbors, for many years and revealed that those lovely birds are capable of many things. Moreover, that they are very intelligent. Another research they conducted proved that pigeons can comprehend concepts like time and space.
Research has been published in the journal Current Biology and suggests that with proper training, pigeons can tell the difference between objects that are short or long, and also about long and short amounts of time. The researchers at the University of Iowa placed short and long lines on a screen, and left them for the same amount of time. Then, they showed the lines on the screens to the pigeons to see whether they could understand the difference between the two.
The pigeons were pecking on the symbols that would show short or long, indicating it to the scientists. Scientists used treats to reward the pigeons who guessed the right answer. After that, they conducted more serious tests, presenting the animals with more lines that are of different lengths and different amounts of time. Scientists wanted to surprise the pigeons by testing them on the length of the lines, while sometimes they tested them only on the amount of time that each line was shown.
According to Edward Wasserman, Stuit Professor of Experimental Psychology in the Department of Psychological and Brain Sciences at the UI, pigeons can comprehend concepts like time and space by using a common area of the brain, which likely means that they don’t comprehend those concepts separately, which is similar to what scientists found with other primates, and humans as well.
“Indeed, the cognitive prowess of birds is now deemed to be ever closer to that of both human and nonhuman primates,” Wasserman said in a statement published on University of Iowa’s website. He studied intelligence in various animals for decades, including pigeons, crows, and baboons. “Those avian nervous systems are capable of far greater achievements than the pejorative term ‘bird brain’ would suggest.”
Scientists have already been aware of the intelligence of pigeons. They are known to switch between tasks better than we do, they can recognize human faces, and they’ve even been taught to discriminate between Monet and Picasso artwork.
It is surprising that pigeons can comprehend concepts like time and space, as well as the other concepts, as birds lack a parietal cortex big enough to be noticed. The parietal cortex is the part of the brain that helps mammals comprehend abstract thoughts. But, thanks to this research, scientists now know that pigeons are capable of performing more complex tasks without having a big parietal cortex.
So, watch out who you call bird-brained next time, who knows what those beautiful pigeons are capable of!