Amazing Intelligence in Animals—Pigeons

“I don’t mind being a symbol but I don’t want to become a monument. There are monuments all over the Parliament Buildings and I’ve seen what pigeons do to them.”  —Tommy Douglas

A few years ago, someone abandoned a pair—one male and one female—Mourning Doves in our neighborhood, and they found their way to my bird feeders. Without even a glance back, they set up shop near my feeders and, today, I have counted an estimate (they move around so much so that I can’t get an accurate count) three dozen Mourning Doves that visit my feeders and their nesting places have spread out to cover most of the area in our small, urban town!

My doves are bluish-grey in color and have a distinct black ring around their neck. Research says that there is a difference between a dove and a pigeon, but they share more in common than differences, and in the case of their intelligence, there is no difference.

Doves and pigeons have been raised as pets by humans for thousands of years and were widely used as subjects of sacrifice to appease the gods and were even employed as message carriers before government postal services replaced them. They are also considered a delicacy in the food isle. If you’re any kind of food connoisseur, you’ve eaten pigeon meat! And who hasn’t gone for a walk in the community park without a bag of popcorn to feed the pigeons?

On the other hand, they are also famous for ‘disgracing’ statues and other public monuments by pooping all over them and are referred to by many as “flying poop machines!” Some folk who really hate pigeons have even gone so far as to accuse them of being dirty and spreading disease. However, this has proven to be untrue. No evidence has been found where pigeons have been responsible for spreading disease, no worse than in any other clean, animal species, but, on the other hand, pigeons have been listed among the top ten species as having super intelligence!

“Pigeons are among the most maligned urban wildlife despite the fact that human beings brought them to our shores and turned them loose in our cities – not something that they chose.”  —Ingrid Newkirk

According to Dr. Becker, in her Healthy Pets, states, “In a classic test of basic intelligence known as the “string task,” pigeons selected the correct string (the one attached to food treats) up to 90 percent of the time. Even more remarkable? The pigeons aced the test “virtually” using a computer touch screen.” In other studies, pigeons have shown remarkable skills in being able to learn abstract mathematical rules. In fact, according to Dr. Becker, “[pigeons] are the only non-humans other than rhesus monkeys with [that] ability.”

In other studies, as reported in Science Daily, “Pigeons can remember large numbers of individual images for a long time, e.g. hundreds of images for periods of several years.” And “Pigeons can be taught relatively complex actions and response sequences and can learn to make responses in different sequences.”

And, who hasn’t heard of the Homing Pigeon with their unique ability to learn routes back to their home from long distances? This homing behavior is different from migratory birds that recall fixed routes at fixed times of the year, although there is some belief that the same mechanisms may be involved. So, salute the pigeon, and the next time you take a walk through your community’s park, armed with a bag of popcorn to feed the pigeons, think of them as being more than just “flying poop machines!”

“My father fought in World War 1 and single-handedly destroyed the German’s line of communication. He ate their pigeon!” —Frank Carson

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