This gives “birdbrain” a whole new meaning.

Have you ever heard someone get called a “birdbrain?”

If so, there’s probably a good chance the person being called such a nickname didn’t do anything overly intelligent to garner such a title. After all, birds don’t have a reputation for being particularly cerebral—or do they?

According to Popular Science, it seems we might not be giving birds—specifically pigeons—the credit they deserve. In fact, pigeons can actually read…well, a little bit.

In a recent experiment published in PNAS titled “Orthographic Processing In Pigeons,” researchers took a deeper look into how pigeons process visual stimuli, as well as whether or not pigeons could accurately discriminate between words and non-words.


To do this, researchers put 18 “experimentally naive” pigeons through a training program. The four smartest pigeons of the group went on to learn how to distinguish four-letter words from non-words. These birds were capable of distinguishing between properly spelled words like “face” and improperly spelled words like “faec.” By the end of the experiment, their vocabulary (or at least words they could accurately and consistently recognize) consisted of 26–58 words.

Maybe being a “birdbrain” isn’t such a bad thing after all.