Continuing our MBOW romp through the more common end of the spectrum we land on everybody’s favourite fat garden idiot; the Wood Pigeon.
I’ll generally defend most birds against accusations of stupidity, and condemn the use of the phrase ‘bird brained’. But it gets much harder with Wood Pigeons, which just give of an air of sluggishness and dull-wittedness. They waddle about the floor, on the lawn, through the flowerbeds, or squatting on your ground feeders. They sit on feeding stations unable to reach the feeders, but never seemingly learning this fact. I even once saw one narrowly missed by a Sparrowhawk that failed entirely to realise it had ever been in danger! So their survival seems to come down more to sheer fecundity (breeding success) than any great wisdom.
Yet their close cousins the domestic pigeon do remarkably well in intelligence tests. They can learn to identify themselves in a mirror. They can learn basic tasks to get food. They can even, apparently, distinguish between different artists. Their homing instinct is so well developed that there is a massive sport built around it, and as the son of a former pigeon fancier I have seen how complex their individual identities can be,
So is the Wood Pigeon just an intellectually stunted relative? Not needing intelligence it doesn’t waste energy on it? Would it in fact confirm the worst prejudices of 19th Century eugenicists? For now, we do not know. Intelligence tests have been limited to domestic pigeons. It could be that the act of domestication selects for a higher level of individual intelligence then magnifies that over generations. Barring a centuries-long experiment on Wood Pigeons, we may never know.