Pigeons never forget a face

They’re everywhere. Roosting on window ledges, gliding through the air and hopping about looking for morsels of food on the ground, these unassuming breed of birds are smarter than you think. Pigeons, also nowadays seen as the pest of all bird species with their overpopulated kind always leaving unsightly poop stains on your cars, can actually recognise a human face.


According to research presented back in 2011 at the Society for Experimental Biology Annual Conference in Glasgow, wild untrained pigeons have an uncanny ability for recalling individual people based on their facial features.

This was tested when two researchers of similar build and skin colour wearing different coloured lab coats went to feed a flock of pigeons in a park at Paris city centre. One played the “good guy” allowing the pigeons to eat in peace while the other (the “bad guy”) acted hostile and chased them away.

This was followed by a second session where neither chased the pigeons away, but the pigeons would avoid the researcher that chased them away the first time, even after the researchers had switched lab coats.

This experiment proved that the pigeons were able to spontaneously use the most relevant characteristics of the individuals — facial traits — rather than their clothing, even though it covers over 90% of their body, to distinguish objects and people.

With a little bit of training, pigeons were also found to be able to interpret facial expressions.


Another research conducted in 2008 in Keio University showed that pigeons have self-cognitive abilities superior to that of an average 3-year-old human child. Pigeons were able to discriminate video images of themselves even with a 5-7 second delay whereas a 3-year-old child already has difficulty recognising their self-image with only a 2-second delay.

Also, while children bawl ever so often when they’ve lost their parents in the shopping mall, pigeons never get lost thanks to their “homing instinct” which allows them to navigate home from hundreds of miles away, even when blindfolded!


Pigeons have much better eyesight than humans. They have a field view of 340 degrees and they can process visual information three times faster than humans. That is why you can never take a pigeon to the movies as the typical 24 frames per second on-screen motion would appear to them as an unimpressive slide presentation.


For a small head, the pigeon does have a pretty big brain. Maybe this would make you think twice before running into a flock of pigeons just for fun, or stomping at them to chase them away.

Remember, these birds will never forget your face.

By Rachel Lim

Still not feeling the Fear of Pigeons? Maybe this video will change your mind… (just kidding. Pigeons are docile, harmless creatures. They’re just super intelligent.)