Turns out birds are better at solving magic tricks than humans

It seems that some birds may be smarter at magic than humans. At least, that’s the case with a species of corvids known as Eurasian jays.

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

PhD student Elias Garcia-Pelegrin seems to have followed through with this report.

Birds Magic Tricks

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

Elias, a professional magician and cognitive scientist, performed three tricks in particular: a palm transfer, French drop and fast pass.

These were tested on 6 Eurasian jays, assessing their capacity to determine which hand Elias was concealing a worm in. If correct, the jays would be rewarded with that worm. Sounds like training a dog to us! Except dogs don’t eat worms.

In the aforementioned report, Elias writes that “these magic effects were specifically chosen as they utilise different cues and expectations that mislead the spectator into thinking one object has or has not been transferred from one hand to the other“.

And the results?

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

However, the fast pass seems to have had them stumped, with a disappointing 26 per cent accuracy.

eurasian jays
Image: eBird

But don’t let that dishearten you! Or them, rather. The video was shown to 80 humans, whose success rates ranged from a very low 13 to a slightly less low 27 per cent across all 3 tricks.

So, where does this bizarre bird talent come from?

Scientists have identified similarities between the way jays hide their food and how magicians deceive the public through their craft.

Jays have been known to cleverly hide their fall nuts from family members by pretending to store them in one area while secretly hiding them in another. In particular, they conceal items in their throat pouch, akin to a magicians use of false pockets. Further, jays have been recorded manipulating food items within their beak, mirroring the classic sleight of hand trick.

Researchers from the Academy are now looking to develop magic tricks specifically designed to assess how birds see the world.

In the meantime, watch Elias performing those clever tricks below.