Tuesday, December 20, 2011

Word: Smart Bird

Pigeon performing a math test.
Interesting piece today in the Times about a subject that interests me greatly. That would be birds. My kids and family are well aware of my fascination with our feathered friends. In fact, I get unshirted hell about it from my kids. I don't think I could ever have the time it would take to get to be real, official bird-watcher, but I've always found these creatures endlessly interesting. They figure in quite a number of my poems, for example.

Anyway, scientists have discovered hitherto unknown talents in an unlikely candidate for bird stardom, the ubiquitous pigeon. We've known for a while that these guys could count. Apparently lots of animals can count. Some time back we learned that monkeys "learned to rank groups of one, two and three items in various sizes and shapes. When tested, they were able to do the task even when unfamiliar numbers of things were introduced. In other words, having learned that two was more than one and three more than two, they could also figure out that five was more than two, or eight more than six." Now, it turns out that pigeons can do it too.

Amazing. Question now arises whether this ability evolved from the common ancestor of birds and primates about 300 million years ago or separately in the different species. Jury is still out on that one.
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