The Magpie in the Mirror
Magpies are very common where I live, and despite their somewhat bad reputation – familiarity breeds contempt, after all – I find them quite interesting. They seem like rather intelligent birds and they’re also one of the very few wild bird species (juvenile ravens, keas, and woodpeckers being the others) I’ve seen engage in play. I’ve seen juvenile magpies play with objects and even tease and chase young hares.
It turns out that they are one of the very few species that is self-aware and can recognize itself in the mirror. Here’s a video from youtube.com about that:
Great apes, elephants, and dolphins are the other non-human species that seem to be able to recognize themselves in a mirror.
The video above notes that the magpie’s self-awareness may be the result of its large brain. Among birds, corvids (crows, jays, magpies and relatives) have the largest brains relative to their size. Cockatoos (Cacatuidae) come next, followed by parrots (Psittacidae). Owls (Strigidae) also have huge brains for their body size, but most of that excess braininess is in the area that controls visual input. Quails, partridges, and pheasants have the smallest brains relative to their body size.
The text of the scientific paper reporting on their mirror self-recognition is online right here:
Here’s a comment on it by Franz de Waal: