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Have we met before? Pigeons recognise familiar human faces

Posted on 1. June, 2012.

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Have you ever thought the pigeons at the park were looking at you strangely? They may be just checking to see if you are someone they know. New research published in Avian Biology Research shows that pigeons can reliably discriminate between familiar and unfamiliar humans, and that they use facial features to tell us apart.

Researchers from the University of Vienna, Austria, and the University of Lincoln, UK, trained a group of pigeons to recognise the difference between photographs of familiar and unfamiliar objects. These pigeons, along with a control group, were then shown photographs of pairs of human faces. One face was of a person familiar to the birds while the other was of someone they had not seen before.

pigeons recognise faces

The experimental group birds were able to recognise and classify the familiar people using only their faces, whereas the birds without prior training failed. The results show that pigeons can discriminate between familiar and unfamiliar people and can do this solely by using facial characteristics.

Have we met before? Pigeons recognise familiar human faces” by Claudia Stephan, Anna Wilkinson and Ludwig Huber, is published in Avian Biology Research Volume 5, Number 2, pages 75–80

doi: 10.3184/175815512X13350970204867

(a)Department of Cognitive Biology; University of Vienna, Althanstrasse 14, 1090 Vienna, Austria
 (b)School of Life Sciences; University of Lincoln, Riseholme Park, Lincoln LN2 2LG, UK
 (c)Messerli Research Institute; University of Veterinary Medicine Vienna, Medical University Vienna, University of Vienna, Veterinärplatz 1, 1210 Vienna, Austria
*E-mail: claudia.stephan@univie.ac.at

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