Pigeons Can Recognize Individual Human Faces

Mat McDermott/CC BY-NC-ND 3.0

New research shows that pigeons have more advanced cognitive processes than we commonly give them credit for, that they can recognize familiar human faces from unfamiliar.

The study, published in Avian Biology Research, found that "the experimental group birds were able to recognize and classify the familiar people using only their faces...the results show that pigeons can discriminate between the familiar and unfamiliar people and can do this solely using facial characteristics."

Lead research Dr Anna Wilkinson:

Such advanced cognitive processes have rarely been observed in pigeons and suggest that they not only recognize individual humans but also know who they know, something which could be very important for survival. To know individuals and act appropriately to them is enormously advantageous. (Science Daily)

The researchers also say that the discovery of this ability in pigeons is further noteworthy because it shows that the ability to recognize individual facial characteristics is not restricted to birds normally considered to be highly cognitive.

What I want to know more about in this is the distance at which pigeons can recognize individuals.

Why: In the process of filming a documentary about people who keep, fly and sometimes race pigeons I was told on a number of occasions by the pigeon fanciers that when the birds are up flying in groups, the reason they keep flying around is that the fancier is waving a long stick around with a black cloth tied on the end of it and that this is mistaken for a predator bird. If pigeons can recognize human faces, then they surely recognize the person holding that stick and likely know that that person provides food for them in their coops. That person is a friendly, useful person. Does it then make sense that they mistake the black cloth for a predator, so closely associated with the human? The birds are obviously reacting to the cloth and the waving about, but my intuition is that the conventional pigeon fancier wisdom is wrong.

Tags: Animals | Animal Welfare