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Magpies in Mirrors

November 3, 2008

Magpies recognize themselves in mirrors.



A magpie’s mirror image…I’m Bob Hirshon and this is Science Update.

Apes, elephants and dolphins are the only species that have been shown to recognize themselves in mirrors. That is, until now. Turns out, magpies can now be added to that list, according to Helmut Prior, a cognitive psychologist at the university of Dusseldorf in Germany. He and his colleagues painted red spots on the necks of magpies. They placed the birds in front of a mirror to see if they could tell that the spots were on their own bodies and not on the image in the mirror.

HELMUT PRIOR (University of Dusseldorf):
The birds tried to reach that spot with their beak or with their foot and in many instances they successfully removed the mark with their foot.

But when there was no mirror present, the birds ignored the spots completely. Prior says their self-recognition is probably an evolutionary by-product of the magpies’ highly social nature. I’m Bob Hirshon, for AAAS, the science society.