Pica pica

The Eurasian magpie (Pica pica) is the only species of bird to have passed the mirror test.

The mirror test, devised by a psychologist in 1970, is a way of judging an animal’s self awareness, which is taken to be an indication of some aspect of its intelligence. A marker, usually a red spot, is put on the subject in a place that it cannot see, in the case of the magpie, on its throat. It is then shown its reflection in a mirror and if it tries to touch or investigate the actual marker, it is assumed that the subject animal understands that the reflection is an image of itself.

Gallery and header images: a member of the reserve’s magpie mob, by Clive Knight.

The magpie passed this test, trying to remove the red spot from its throat. Only the great apes, including ourselves, bottlenose dolphins and orcas, Asian elephants and ants have passed the mirror test. Human children don’t develop that level of self awareness until they are at least eighteen months old.

Of course, the validity of any test that demarks a set that includes elephants, ants and pre-schoolers is going to be questionable. So let’s just assume the intelligence of Pica pica and never underestimate the park’s magpie mob.

2 thoughts on “

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  1. This morning I saw a pair of magpies chasing a sparrowhawk from a tree in our garden. Do sparrowhawks take young birds from their nests?

    1. I don’t think so but I may be wrong. I am sure they would take a fledgling magpie, though, and most woodland bird species see sparrowhawks as the enemy and will chase them away.

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