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Pigeons show off complex math skills in new study

The next time someone calls you birdbrained, you should happily take that as a compliment because scientists have made yet another discovery that further indicates the intelligence of birds.

I’m sure if you’ve watched birds in your backyard, you know just how smart they can be when searching for food or constructing elaborate nests. However, according to a paper in the journal Science, birds are also good at something many people despise – math.

A wide range of species in the animal kingdom like bees have been known to count objects, but not to the extent of the common pigeon. Researchers in the study taught pigeons to think about numbers more abstractly.

Here’s more from the NewScientist:

Three pigeons were shown a computer screen displaying images with one, two or three shapes and trained to list the shapes in ascending order. To receive a reward of wheat, the birds learned to peck the images in the correct order.

Moreover, after they had learned this skill, the birds could perform the task with pairs of images containing anything from one to nine objects.

Before this finding, scientists only thought that monkeys were capable of doing this kind of advanced arithmetic. Many types of birds have displayed intelligence, including the New Caledonian Crow using tools and rooks raising the water level of a jar by dropping rocks in it. But, when we think of pigeons, the last thing we probably think of are arithmetic geniuses.

So, the next time you see one of these pesky birds strutting around and looking for scraps on the ground, just remember that these birds are amazingly intelligent creatures.

Timothy Martinez Jr. is a writer and freelance journalist. His work has been published in The Times-Picayune in New Orleans, Remapping Debate in New York City and other publications. He’s been a bird lover since he was young and currently lives in New Orleans, L.A.