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Math REALLY IS for the Birds

We know that the ancestors of birds were dinosaurs, so did these ancient giant creatures walk around counting the leaves on the trees? Because it turns out that some birds--pigeons, to be precise--are excellent at math. When it comes to counting, they match the ability of chimps.

In the December 23rd edition of the New York Times, James Gorman writes: "All sorts of animals, including bees, can count. Pigeons have now shown that they can learn abstract rules about numbers, an ability that until now had been demonstrated only in primates. In the 1990s scientists trained rhesus monkeys to look at groups of items on a screen and to rank them from the lowest number of items to the highest."

PhysOrg.com quotes researcher Damian Scarf as saying, "Our research not only shows that pigeons are also members of this exclusive club, but, somewhat surprisingly, their performance is on a par with that of monkeys."

The most amazing thing about this is that the common ability of both pigeons and primates to learn rules about either evolved separately, or else they have a common ancestor. If they did, this creature would have lived about 300 million years ago, BEFORE either dinosaurs and mammals.

PhysOrg.com quotes Scarf as saying, "While this is obviously a long way away from how humans can count, it shows that an animal with a brain structured quite differently to ours is still able to perform complex mental tasks of which only humans were once thought capable. Our findings add to a growing body of evidence that pigeons are among a number of avian species exhibiting impressive mental abilities that really do give the lie to the old 'bird brain' insult."

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