Backyard Chirper

SUMMER SALE $10 off purchase of $100 or more.  Ends 06/30/24. CODE: 24SUMMER

Test Offers More Proof That Birds Can Count

"New Zealand robin" by Tomas Sobek is licensed under CC BY 2.0
“New Zealand robin” by Tomas Sobek is licensed under CC BY 2.0

Any backyard birder can tell you with confidence that birds are highly intelligent. Whether it’s the way they manage to get that last bit of bird seed out of a feeder or the way some mimic the calls of other species, birds are no slouches when it comes to smarts.

In fact, a few years ago, a study said that birds are smarter than 7-year-old children in certain aspects.

For those who constantly argue that being “bird-brained” is not a bad thing, a recent study has provided more proof of the intelligence of birds.

According to the New York Times, Alexis Garland and Jason Low at Victoria University of Wellington found that New Zealand robins can count. Earlier experiments have been done to show this, but this research was done under controlled conditions.

Here’s more from the Times on how the experiment was conducted:

The experiment is intriguing to watch, partly because it looks like a child’s magic trick. The apparatus used is a wooden box that has a sliding drawer. After clearly showing a robin that she was dropping two mealworms in a circular well in the box, Dr. Garland would slide in the drawer. It covered the two worms with an identical-looking circular well containing only one worm.

When the researcher moved away and the robin flew down and lifted off a cover, it would find only one worm. The robins pecked intensely at the box, behavior they didn’t show if they found the two worms they were expecting.

There are a lot of good reasons why these birds could be good at counting, but Garland said that one reason might be because they’re thieves. It might have to do with keeping track of how much food they have (or maybe want to steal).

Watch the video from the Times below to see the experiment in action.

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.