London: Phrases like being a bird-brain may require a new explanation with researchers in New Zealand having discovered that pigeons can actually count as well as monkeys.
Scientists at the University of Otago in New Zealand have shown that pigeons can compare pairs of images picturing up to nine objects and even order them by the lower to higher number with a success rate above chance, the Daily Mail reported.
According to Damian Scarf, the study`s lead author, until now only humans and primates were thought to share the ability to use abstract numerical rules in this way.
"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," he said.
For the study, the researchers initially trained the pigeons by presenting them with 35 sets of three images, each with one, two, or three objects of different sizes, colours and shapes. On pecking the images in the correct ascending sequence, they were rewarded with wheat.
The researchers then sought to test if the pigeons could take what they had learnt from ordering the three images and apply it to images with higher numbers of objects than they had watched before.
"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," said Scarf.