Sunday, April 5, 2009

Counting Birds

You have probably heard the expression bird brain. In many ways, it’s a little unfair on birds. They are much better at finding their way around the earth than humans are. But, birds are no mathematical geniuses. In fact, they can only count up to two. How do we know this? Did I ask a parrot?

Stop and think for a moment. How could you discover the counting abilities of a bird? Don’t read on just yet if you think you can figure out a way to do it.

OK. You couldn’t, could you? Neither could I, but, scientists found a way. They pitched a tent at the edge of a lake. One man walked up to the lake and got inside the tent. The birds on the lake flew away and didn’t return until after he’d left the tent. Then two men walked up and went into the tent. One of them left, but the birds didn’t return. The second man left and the birds flew back. Next, three men got into the tent. The first left, but the birds stayed away. The second man left, leaving the third still inside the tent, but the birds flew back anyway because they couldn’t count beyond two.

Finally - now this is the really clever part - the third man shot three of the birds. They repeated this process for several weeks until incredibly the birds finally learned to count up to three. No, I just made that last bit up.

Now you know how to do it, you can conduct similar experiments with cockroaches, feral cats, Cape hunting dogs, Thomson’s gazelles, wildebeests, elephants and any other wild animals that take your fancy. Have fun and remember to wear the appropriate safety equipment.

PS I took that photo of a Rufous-tailed Hummingbird on the beautiful Bocas del Toro islands in Panama last year and, of course, I needed two other people to help me ;) Click on it if you want to see the bird actually counting the number two <>


  1. Haha!!! That's funny!! I have to try this with the squirrels here! They don't want me to take a picture of them!!

  2. I'll try it with the feral cats that hang out in my backyard.

    Great photo!

  3. Thanks for visiting my blog all the way over in East Africa, Ian :) Wow, you must be one of the most travelled people I've ever 'met' - I'm sure that you have some amazing stories to tell, I'll definitely be back to read more of your blog soon !
    Bye for now
    Lynda, Kilimanjaro, East Africa

  4. Hey Ian- Go to and check out Josua Klein´s talk on The Intelligence of Crows - Then we´ll see who is laughing...Great shot!

  5. It looks like it's humming!

  6. The photo is beautiful!

  7. Every photo is be excited and impressive.


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