Turns out birds are better at solving magic tricks than humans


It seems that some birds are smarter in magic than humans. At least that is the case with a species of corvid known as the Eurasian jay.

Researchers in a small study published Monday reported on Eurasian jays, whose intelligence has long been the subject of psychological studies. The reports came as part of the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

Doctoral student Elias Garcia-Pelegrin seems to have followed up on this report.

Image: Phys.org

In April of this year, videos were uploaded to YouTube showing Elias performing a series of exotic bird magic tricks.

Elias, professional magician and cognitive science researcher, performed three tricks in particular: a palm transfer, a French drop and a quick pass.

These were tested on 6 Eurasian jays, testing their ability to determine in which hand Elias was hiding a worm. If this were correct, the jays would be rewarded with this worm. It sounds like training a dog to us! Except dogs don’t eat worms.

In the aforementioned report, Elias writes that “tThese magical effects were specifically chosen because they use different cues and expectations that mislead the viewer into believing that an object has or has not been transferred from one hand to the other.“.

And the results?

Well the jays were usually right. They certainly beat Elias for the first two rounds, correctly choosing 70% of the time for the palm transfer, followed by a 60% success rate for the French drop.

However, the quick pass seems to have baffled them, with a disappointing 26% accuracy.

Eurasian jays
Image: eBird

But don’t let that discourage you! Or rather them. The video was shown to 80 humans, whose success rates ranged from a very low 13 to just under 27% for all 3 rounds.

So where does this weird bird talent come from?

Scientists have identified similarities between the way jays hide their food and the way magicians trick audiences through their art.

Jays have been known to cleverly hide their fall nuts from family members by pretending to store them in one place while secretly hiding them in another. In particular, they conceal objects in their throat pockets, similar to the use by magicians of fake pockets. Additionally, jays have been recorded handling food in their beaks, mirroring the classic sleight of hand.

Academy researchers are now looking to develop specially designed magic tricks to assess how birds see the world.

In the meantime, watch Elias perform these smart tricks below.

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