Trick or Treat! How Birds Use Extraordinary Intelligence for Dining and Deceit

Oct 25, 2022
Bird Intelligence

Birds are incredibly intelligent and adaptive animals. In fact, many species of birds are among the most intelligent animals on the planet.

Ravens, for example, can plan nearly a full day in advance to use an object for a specific task.

It’s a capacity birds use to outsmart their competition – including their human adversaries – and get what they want.

Here are a few examples of feathered trick or treaters using their highly developed capability for deceit to score thrills and meals and keep us guessing.

  • Trick! Parrots in India have decimated poppy farms, where they gorge themselves on the opium-rich pods and return again and again, according to news reports. These airborne addicts have outsmarted all attempts to keep them away, and have even learned the art of stealth (a difficult task for a noisy species) as they fly under the radar to snatch poppy pods and stay undetected by frustrated farmers.
  • Treat! Pigeons, often referred to as “sky rats” and a common nuisance bird, are quite intelligent, and one of only a few species known to recognize themselves in a mirror. They are also very good at distinguishing similarities and differences in a group of objects. For example, with training, pigeons are able to determine the difference between paintings by two different artists, and between cancerous and non-cancerous cells, studies have shown. In fact, when the medical images were shown to a series of different pigeons and their answers combined, the birds’ accuracy reached that of human experts.

  • Trick! The results of another study found that birds were less gullible than humans in falling for sleight of hand magic tricks. The study, which compared the ability of Eurasian jays to human subjects, found that the humans were fooled by all three tricks used in the study, while the birds fell for only one, which involved a rapid hand-off movement.
  • Treat! Wild crows learned how to buy peanuts from a vending machine. American inventor Josh Klein developed a crow vending machine that accepts coins and dispenses peanuts. The crows quickly learned to fly all over the city looking for dropped change they could use to buy peanuts from the machine. The idea was put to practical use in Sweden where crows were trained to dispose of cigarette butts in exchange for a dispensed treat. The pigeon cleaning crew company’s founder claims their work could save the city up to 75% of its street cleaning costs. This assumes, of course that such clever workers don’t undertake collective bargaining as their next trick.
  • Trick! Herons drop leaves and pieces of bread into shallow waters to trick fish into believing a tasty insect has landed on the surface. When the fish rise to investigate, they are quickly speared by these long-legged anglers.
  • Treat! While parrots’ ability to mimic human speech is well known, there are many species of birds that can reproduce human language. European starlings,  a common nuisance bird in the U.S. responsible for significant agriculture losses and property damage,  are incredible mimics. Not only can they mimic the sounds of other animals and birds (many use a red-tailed hawk scream – perhaps to attract mates), they also can learn human speech. A few are known to have taken up beatboxing.

We’ve Got a Few Tricks Up Our Sleeves as Well

At Wild Goose Chase Indy, we make our living helping businesses prevent and manage bird conflicts – an undertaking made all the more challenging by the incredible abilities of these amazing species.

Of course, as a biologist-led team, we wouldn’t have it any other way. Our respect and continued fascination with these creatures informs the work we do and ensures that our solutions are effective, humane and built upon deep knowledge of bird behavior, species by species.

To learn more about our solutions for your bird conflicts, have your bird reach out to one of our team members today. Or just give us a call yourself.

Happy Halloween!

Contact us to learn more about bird management