Magpies are handsome birds. I keep reading about how intelligent they are.
Intelligence is one of those factors which is so difficult to define that it become meaningless unless we share the same definition. What exactly is intelligence for a bird? Problem solving? Self-awareness? Using tools? An ability to exhibit behaviours which mimic human behaviours in some way? Anything which looks like something humans do, because we have defined ourselves as having ‘higher intelligence’?
The Magpie was the first species which wasn’t a mammal to pass the mirror test; a test designed to see whether an animal could recognise itself in a mirror. Many birds can’t. I’ve seen Nuthatches arguing with their own reflections in car wing mirrors and Blue Tits getting territorial after seeing themselves reflected in a plate glass window.
Magpies are different.
In a scientific experiment, Magpies were anaesthetised and then had a small coloured sticker placed under their chin. When they awoke, they couldn’t see or feel the sticker, but as soon as they saw themselves in the mirror, they scratched at it.
What does that tell us? It tells us that someone’s giving out research grants for pointless cruelty when there isn’t a clearly defined purpose to the experiment. So a Magpie can supposedly recognise itself in a mirror. Can it really? Now what?
Whoever designed that experiment needs to take a long hard look at themselves in the mirror.