Smart Birds: Pigeons Actually Understand Time and Distance

Can you believe how smart pigeons are? And that pigeons actually understand time and distance? We have all become so accustomed to seeing the little feathered guys hanging out in parks and on city sidewalks in pretty much every city in the world – to the point that we really do not pay much attention to them. As it turns out, these little urban fellows are not just very skilled at adapting to life in the big city — they are also very capable of understanding abstract things like as distance and time, according to a brand new study.

Pigeons are Very Aware of The World Around Them

Scientists have found out recently that pigeons have the ability to recognize just how much area and space that an object will occupy, and pretty much how long it will be visible, tasks that we humans achieve using the cortex within our brains. 

The odd thing about this discovery is that birds do not have developed cortexes. Researchers learned that pigeons are using an entirely different part of their brains to recognize time and space, and still they end up processing the information in pretty much the same manner similar as humans and other primates have always done.

Birds in general have been known to do “exceptionally well” certain tasks that are linked to cortex functions within mammals, according to this new study. And pigeons are proving over and over again that they’re quite capable of cognitive accomplishments that are generally connected with the more complex brains of mammals. Prior research indicated that pigeons are able to recognize the faces of humans, even solve statistical problems, and actually distinguish English words from gibberish.

For this new research, scientists presented pigeons with challenges that have been used to test the ability of people and also nonhuman primates to comprehend and perceive time and space. These pigeons had been trained to pick among visual symbols displayed upon a computer screen as a response to viewing lines which had different lengths, and also lines having the same lengths – these were viewable for various durations. Which correctly picking lines as “long” or “short” or the right duration, they were rewarded with food.

Not only did these pigeons pick the right line images, their performance throughout the amended tests indicated even more insights into the ways that avian brains can process abstract data like time and space. After the researchers injected variations into the tests — line durations and lengths that were not included when initially training the birds —they were able to observe the perceptions of the pigeons when the two states had been linked. In other words, when the line lengths were changed, it affected the way they viewed the duration as well, a phenomenon which has already been scientifically observed in monkeys too, as authors of the study noted.

These findings have suggested that not only would this kind of perception not necessarily need a cortex, but that possibly evolution could have changed and caused certain brain regions in these birds to digest data just like a cortex would, in spite of having a brain that is structurally different.

Scientists now believe that it is very likely that such abilities could actually be more widespread among other animals than previously thought, these researchers also noted.

“Those avian nervous systems are capable of far greater achievements than the pejorative term ‘bird brain’ would suggest,” said Edward Wasserman, who is a professor of experimental psychology at the Department of Psychological and Brain Sciences from the University of Iowa.

“Indeed, the cognitive prowess of birds is now deemed to be ever closer to that of both human and nonhuman primates,” Wasserman added.

Who would have guessed that pigeons actually understand time and distance?