Pigeons are completely incapable of forgetting a human face
turns out crows aren't the only birds with
fiendishly powerful memories. Pigeons are also capable of spontaneously
remembering which humans mistreated them, and even an attempt to disguise
the identity of their one-time abuser can't fool them.
pigeons aren't as mean about all this as
crows, who are known to hold five-year grudges. But once a pigeon
recognizes a human as a threat, it appears there's no way of convincing them
otherwise. That's the takeaway from experiments conducted by researchers at
the University of Paris. The team worked not with laboratory-bred captive
pigeons, but instead with feral birds who had received no special training
or instructions. Despite this, the pigeons displayed an amazing aptitude for
recognizing human faces.
Here's the experiment that the researchers
conducted. Two similar-looking humans would go to a park. One person would
ignore the pigeons completely, while the other would actively try to chase
them away. Then the pair would return to park, but this time neither would
bother the pigeons. The researchers repeated this several times, on some
occasions even having the two humans swap clothes so as to confuse the
pigeons, but the birds always immediately recognized with human had once
mistreated them and without fail ran away from that person.
Dalila Bovet explains what this means:
"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. 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% of the body."
This ability is quite
possibly a modern development to pigeons living among humans in cities and
other areas. Since humans possess so much control over the pigeons'
preferred habitat, it makes sense that the birds would have developed a
basic ability to recognize which humans are potential threats.