It has been found that the little critters that flood our town centres are cleverer than we think. Feral, untrained pigeons can recognise individuals and are not fooled by change of clothes or hairstyle! Scientists have shown that urban pigeons that have never been handled by humans can recognise individual people by their facial characteristics. The first evidence of pigeon intelligence was spotted in racing pigeons due to their fantastic tracking skills.
Two scientists fed pigeons in a park in Paris City Centre. The researchers were both of a similar height and build but were wearing different coloured lab coats. One of them simply ignored the pigeons allowing them to feed whilst the other was hostile, and chased them away. They then had a session where neither of the researchers chased the pigeons away. After several trials it was found that the pigeons started to avoid the researcher which chased them even when he stopped doing it, this showed that pigeons could recognise the individual.
Even when they swapped lab coats and did the test again, the pigeons continued to avoid the individual who had initially chased them. Interestingly, the untrained feral pigeons used the most relevant characteristics of the individuals – probably their facial traits instead of the lab coats that covered 90% of their body. The pigeons appeared to understand clothing colour was not a good way of telling humans apart, which suggests birds have developed abilities to discriminate between humans in particular.
Dr Dalila, the co-author of the study said future work will focus on identifying whether pigeons learn that humans often change clothes and so use more stable characteristics for recognition perhaps? Or if there is a genetic basis for this ability, linked to domestication or having evolved in an urban environment?
The study was base on the fact that Crows have excellent memories for recognizing faces and can apparently tell the difference between a friendly face and a dangerous one. The birds have said to be as intelligent as chimpanzees and will remember the face of someone who has posed a threat to them for at least 5 years.