Pigeons Have An Uncanny Ability For Recalling Human Faces: Study

07/06/2011 12:02 pm ET | Updated Sep 04, 2011

A word to the wise: Never double-cross a pigeon.

The pesky breed of bird characterized by its large body and small head is capable of recognizing and recalling individual people based on facial features, according to research presented Sunday at the Society for Experimental Biology Annual Conference in Glasgow.

According to a press release:

In a park in Paris city centre, pigeons were fed by two researchers, of similar build and skin colour, wearing different coloured lab coats. One individual simply ignored the pigeons, allowing them to feed while the other was hostile, and chased them away. This was followed by a second session when neither chased away the pigeons.

The experiment, which was repeated several times, showed that pigeons were able to recognise the individuals and continued to avoid the researcher who had chased them away even when they no longer did so. Swapping lab coats during the experiments did not confuse the pigeons and they continued shun the researcher who had been initially hostile.

"It is very likely that the pigeons recognised the researchers by their faces, since the individuals were both female and of a similar age, build and skin color," said co-author Dalila Bovet. "Interestingly, the pigeons, without training, spontaneously used the most relevant characteristics of the individuals (probably facial traits), instead of the lab coats that covered 90 per cent of the body."

By the way, don't try to pull a fast one on any crows either. Research shows that they too are capable of recalling faces of "dangerous humans."

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