Study Suggests Pigeons Are Evil Geniuses

May 31, 2013 | Julia Dawidowicz

As most ANIMAL readers can attest, we think pigeons are complex, intriguing creatures. Maybe it’s rapid evolution caused by living in harsh urban settings, or a special wisdom inherited from their great messenger pigeon ancestors — but we’ve always suspected that they will one day conquer us all. A new study from the University of Iowa just confirms the hunch.

A psychology research team found that pigeons are startlingly capable of using touch screens to master intelligence tests. First, the pigeons were given a “string task” that required them to pull on one of two strings that was attached to a treat. Naturally, they excelled. Scavenging for food? Please.

The next part of the experiment replaced strings and snacks with two buttons on a touchscreen, one of which corresponded with a virtual bowl of food. Pecking at the correct button brought the virtual bowl gradually closer, and the test varied along the way (by crossing the “strings,” for instance). Astonishingly, between 74% and 90% of the pigeons successfully achieved the task (see video). In the end, prevailing pigeons were rewarded with real food — something they probably predicted from the start, ’cause why would they waste their time humoring stupid humans otherwise?

Study author Edward Wasserman writes: “These results… demonstrate that pigeons can concurrently contend with a broad range of demanding patterned-string problems, thereby eliminating many alternative interpretations of their behaviour.”

Cunning, foresight, and a mastery of the digital age? Prepare to bow down to your pigeon overlords.