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Self Recognition and Impulse Control in Birds


Research this month (June, 2008) at Japan’s Keio University has proven what pet keepers have long known – that birds possess much more intelligence than they are given credit for.

The work showed that pigeons have a well developed sense of “self”, and can distinguish their own images from those of another pigeon after a delay of up to 7 seconds. This places them ahead of most human 3 year olds, who fail at self-recognition tests after a 2 second delay. Amazingly, the pigeons were also taught to distinguish the paintings of Van Gogh from those of Chagall – a task at which, I am embarrassed to say, I would likely fail!

Prior to these findings, only mammals with highly-developed brains, such as chimpanzees, elephants, dolphins and (possibly) dogs, were known to be capable of recognizing their own images.

In another interesting project, Rohr University Bochum (Germany) biologists were able to determine that pigeons moderated their choice of a large versus a small reward based upon how long it took for each reward to be delivered. The research revealed that pigeon impulse-control is regulated by a single forebrain neuron, and could have important implications for the treatment of addictive and attention-deficit related disorders in humans.

Parrots seem, at least on the surface, to exceed pigeons in their learning abilities – I imagine that we will eventually learn that they have other very advanced capabilities as well.


An interesting article concerning the similarities between how birds and people perceive the world around them is posted at:

About Frank Indiviglio

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I believe that I was born with an intense interest in animals, as neither I nor any of my family can recall a time when I was not fascinated by creatures large and small. One might imagine this to be an unfortunate set of circumstances for a person born and raised in the Bronx, but, in actuality, quite the opposite was true. Most importantly, my family encouraged both my interest and the extensive menagerie that sprung from it. My mother and grandmother somehow found ways to cope with the skunks, flying squirrels, octopus, caimans and countless other odd creatures that routinely arrived un-announced at our front door. Assisting in hand-feeding hatchling praying mantises and in eradicating hoards of mosquitoes (I once thought I had discovered “fresh-water brine shrimp” and stocked my tanks with thousands of mosquito larvae!) became second nature to them. My mother went on to become a serious naturalist, and has helped thousands learn about wildlife in her 16 years as a volunteer at the Bronx Zoo. My grandfather actively conspired in my zoo-buildings efforts, regularly appearing with chipmunks, boa constrictors, turtles rescued from the Fulton Fish Market and, especially, unusual marine creatures. It was his passion for seahorses that led me to write a book about them years later. Thank you very much, for a complete biography of my experience click here.
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