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Pigeons rival primates in number task

Trained on one-two-three, birds can apply the rule of numerical order to such lofty figures as five and nine

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3:55pm, December 22, 2011

Pigeons, who aren’t even distant uncles to a monkey, have matched primates in a test of learning an abstract numerical concept.

Trained on one-two-three, the pigeons then had to put pairs of numbers up to nine in order, says comparative psychologist Damian Scarf of the University of Otago in New Zealand. Pigeons rivaled rhesus monkeys tested earlier at the same task, Scarf and his colleagues report in the Dec. 23 Science.

The results “suggest that despite completely different brain organization and hundreds of millions of years of evolutionary divergence, pigeons and monkeys solve this

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