Avian mathematicians and musicians

Discovery News reports: Pigeons may be ubiquitous, but they’re also brainy, according to a new study that found these birds are on par with primates when it comes to numerical competence.

The study, published in the latest issue of the journal Science, discovered that pigeons can discriminate against different amounts of number-like objects, order pairs, and learn abstract mathematical rules. Aside from humans, only rhesus monkeys have exhibited equivalent skills.

“It would be fair to say that, even among birds, pigeons are not thought to be the sharpest crayon in the box,” lead author Damian Scarf told Discovery News. “I think that this ability may be widespread among birds. There is already clear evidence that it is widespread among primates.”

The neural pathways that allow pigeons to do math might be connected to the ones that enable the cockatoos below to dance. Both skills hinge on the ability to conceptualize uniform units — the most abstract representations of space and time.

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