Pigeons are no birdbrains

Hermanus Bird Club

Pigeons are no birdbrains, according to a New Zealand-German study that found they can distinguish real written words from non-words.

According to a report by news agency Xinhua, published on the IOL website, pigeons can visually process letter combinations to identify real words in English, researchers from New Zealand’s University of Otago and Germany’s Ruhr University said in a statement today (Monday 19 September).

duif-tuin-0709-wroclaw A Rock Pigeon or Dove (Tuinduif), probably the most common pigeon species in the world. The report did not name the species used in the study. Image: Charles Naudé.

They found that pigeons were the first non-primate species with “orthographic” skills related to the conventions of spelling abilities, and they performed on a par with baboons in such a complex task.

In an experiment, pigeons were trained to peck four-letter English words as they came up on a screen, or to instead peck a symbol when…

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