Posted by: r.m. | May 19, 2009

birds. birds. ah …

Birds can tell you apart. Beware 🙂

A species of songbird has been shown to identify individual people in a crowd in order to target them aggressively if they pose a threat to their nests. North American mockingbirds can distinguish between individual men and women out of many thousands based on whether they have a history of getting too near to their nests, a study has found.

It is the first time that anyone has shown that wild birds are able to tell people apart and is one of the rare examples of one species being able to distinguish between individual members of another species, scientists said.

The mockingbirds in the study quickly learnt to identify people who regularly came too close to their nests on a busy university campus populated by thousands of passing students. The birds responded to further encroachments by screeching, dive bombing and sometimes grazing the heads of the intruders.

However, this extreme aggression was limited to those people who had already come too close to the birds’ nests on two previous occasions. First-time human intruders were treated with far less aggression, the scientists found.

[In other words, mockingbirds treat humans as innocent until proven guilty. Hmm…]

We do not believe mockingbirds evolved an ability to distinguish between humans. Mockingbirds and humans haven’t been living in close association long enough for that to occur. We think that our experiments reveal an underlying ability to be incredibly perceptive of everything around them, and to respond appropriately when the stakes are high,” Professor Levey said.

And to put all this information in another light: once again we discover that the world around us, and those magnificent species with whom we are supposed to share this earth, are more spectacular than we had imagined.  Can we treat the world thus with more humility?


  1. i wish we human have their ability of identifying the intruders that simple!it would have made our lives a lot more easier..well to be able to identify the exact same individual that have been posing a threat on their nests is quiet impressive,but how can they be sure?..i mean a person can wear different clothes every day,for example,or changes his outlook,or can have a different this question must be asked,what are the criteria the mokingbirds use to identify the same individual?

  2. It’s like that article about elephants that recognize people who killed their relatives and get revenge! We have been under-estimating the wit of animals. Another interesting experience: you can show a monkey a set of 14 numbers (only once!) and the monkey will be able to identify them again, same order, no mistakes, something that most humans cannot do.. just think about memorizing phone numbers!

  3. 😛 This is hilarious. I always wondered why my dad was always targeted by the birds of our neighborhood while I on the other hand seemed to be lucky enough as not to be a target. Clearly my distate to explore bird’s nests (unlike my dad) has done me some good deeds 🙂
    It is truly fascinating to know of such abilities, it makes one wonder, what other abilities do other species have that we have missed to notice.

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