Bird Brains May be Better than Your Brains

Yes, they will remember you
Yes, they will remember you
Fans of this blog, both of you, have written us elegant elegies expressing your enraged exasperation that the “Facebook Like” button at the bottom of each article isn’t working. My favorite was, by far, the most poignant.

“Button no work.”

Kind of brings a tear to your eye, doesn’t it?

Sadly, though, this is not the fault of Nude Hippo’s I.T. staff. I say sadly because we have a public whipping policy in place for those special, yet rare, times when it is. We also have a “No Public Nudity” rule which the staff has taken to mean that they can strip bare once they’re in the privacy of our offices. Management may be rethinking that one. Nevertheless, until the nice people at Facebook get off their dead butts and fix the problem, you’ll need to copy the link above, paste it in the “link” section on your page and then share it with your friends. I’m sorry to put the burden on you but it’s the only viable solution for now.

Our I.T. department wants me to remind you that you can always send them money, via PayPal, at info@nudehippo.com. They won’t say what the money will be used for, but you can send it anyway.

Nevertheless, none of this has anything to do with our topic today.

Nope, today we’re going to talk about why you should be nice to birds. In fact, you might want to be extra super special nice, especially to pigeons. You see, as it turns out, calling someone a “bird brain” might actually be a compliment. The Society for Experimental Biology is reporting that that pigeons can remember faces.

New research has shown that feral, untrained pigeons can recognise individual people and are not fooled by a change of clothes.

Researchers, who will be presenting their work at the Society for Experimental Biology Annual Conference in Glasgow on Sunday the 3rd of July, have shown that urban pigeons that have never been caught or handled can recognise individuals, probably by using facial characteristics.

Although pigeons have shown remarkable feats of perception when given training in the lab this is the first research showing similar abilities in untrained feral pigeons.

In a park in Paris city centre, pigeons were fed by two researchers, of similar build and skin colour, wearing different coloured lab coats. One individual simply ignored the pigeons, allowing them to feed while the other was hostile, and chased them away. This was followed by a second session when neither chased away the pigeons.

The experiment, which was repeated several times, showed that pigeons were able to recognise the individuals and continued to avoid the researcher who had chased them away even when they no longer did so. Swapping lab coats during the experiments did not confuse the pigeons and they continued shun the researcher who had been initially hostile.

“It is very likely that the pigeons recognised the researchers by their faces, since the individuals were both female and of a similar age, build and skin colour,” says Dr. Dalila Bovet a co-author of this work from the University of Paris Ouest Nanterre La Défense. “Interestingly, the pigeons, without training, spontaneously used the most relevant characteristics of the individuals (probably facial traits), instead of the lab coats that covered 90% of the body.”

The fact that the pigeons appeared to know that clothing colour was not a good way of telling humans apart suggests that the birds have developed abilities to discriminate between humans in particular. This specialised ability may have come about over the long period of association with humans, from early domestication to many years of living in cities.

Future work will focus on identifying whether pigeons learn that humans often change clothes and so use more stable characteristics for recognition, or if there is a genetic basis for this ability, linked to domestication or to having evolved in an urban environment

So what if pigeons can remember faces? Ever see The Birds?

And it’s not just fiction, either. A pigeon attacked a dude in Des Moines, Iowa. A tiny little bird recently attacked a freaking tiger and lived to tell about it. In Alaska bald eagles are attacking postal workers and in Oregon angry hawks are attacking bicyclists.

Of course postal workers and bicyclists are equally annoying, so I’m okay with that.

Loosely keeping with our theme today, I ran across this music video a while back and am glad to have the chance to share it. This kid named Jared Morrison found some old footage of Lynard Skynard and carefully edited it all back together over the original album release of Free Bird to give fans one last look at the complete band performing the song. Since music videos were very rare back then, and Skynard never did one, this is probably the only chance most folks will have to see what the band really looked like before most of them were killed in 1977.

Listen to Bill McCormick on WBIG AM 1280, every Thursday morning around 9:10!

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