A story by Science Alert caught my eye yesterday about an experiment to test how clever pigeons are. The article commented on new research from psychologists at the University of Otago in New Zealand. Damian Scarf, Harlene Hayne and Michael Colombo found that pigeons possess far greater numerical abilities than was previously thought, actually putting them on par with (gulp) primates. I have read other articles that indicate that pigeons have the intelligence of a seven year old.
So why, you might ponder, is numeracy so important in the animal kingdom? It helps animals solve problems and communicate. Science Alert uses a great example of the Cowbird which chooses to eschew all type of childcare. The Cowbird prefers to dump their eggs into the nest of another bird which contains three eggs. The unwitting surrogate bird then has to bring up the Cowbird chicks too. Crows identify individuals by the number of caw sounds in their vocalisations.
The BBC broadcast Test Your Pet in 2004 to discover which was Britain’s cleverest type of pet. Over 25,000 pets and their owners undertook six pet IQ tests. The title of Britain’s Cleverest Individual Pet went to Baggio, the Cockateil from Bristol. Baggio watches his owner, tailor Jack Territo, sewing suits. So Baggio has learnt to copy Jack by using his beak, tongue and claws. He can pick up a needle and thread it through material. Impressive stuff. Based on average scores for each group of pets, dogs ranked first, followed by horses, parrots, cats and rats.
Rats are clever animals and its always not easy to get rid of rats. They are quick on their feet and cunning but more worrying they understand cause and effect, which demonstrates a deeper intelligence. It concerns me to think that a rat may be cleverer than me.
The social hierarchy of ants is impressive but are they numerical. The 2011 study Numerical competence in animals, with an insight from ants by Russian scientists Zhanna Reznikova & Boris Ryabko indicates that ants can add and subtract small numbers and use these operations for optimising their messages.
If you ask any of our bird control technicians if they think pigeons are clever, they will tell you that pigeons can be really clever, and very determined, but in other ways they have a lot to learn. Not unlike a seven year child I guess.