Brainiacs of the Sky

Pigeon up close
Who are you calling a rat of the sky?

Yesterday, on the way home from work, my husband hit a pigeon with his bicycle. Ugh. I know.

Thankfully, the pigeon survived. We think. We hope. Let’s just say yes, it did, and move on.

But here’s the thing. When my husband came home and told me, I thought to myself, wait—aren’t pigeons supposed to be smart? How come that pigeon didn’t get out of the way with the others as my husband was cycling towards it yelling, “GET OUT OF THE WAY, BIRDS!”?

Now, I can’t speak for that one pigeon (or the others that did get out of the way—or any pigeon, really). But after doing a little more digging to confirm my suspicion, I can tell you that yes, this species of bird is very smart.

Like, how smart?

They can recognize all 26 letters of the English alphabet.

Alphabet Blue Letters With Eraser And Chalk On Blackboard
Pigeon class is in session!

So they can read? Not exactly. But recently, scientists conducted a study in which they trained pigeons to distinguish real words from nonsensical ones. They used 308 four-letter words that baboons had learned in a previous study (those smarty-pants primates, am I right?).

How did the birds do? Not bad! Some were able to identify dozens of words. The most successful of pigeons learned to recognize 58 words.

Although pigeons may not be quite as intelligent as baboons, research has now shown several times that they are able to learn and undertake tasks—such as word and facial recognition—previously thought to only be possible by humans and primates.

What do you think of our feathered friends now?