New Research Shows Birds Can Accurately Follow Magic Tricks

Everyone likes magic, including animals. There are plenty of funny videos showing magicians performing tricks for animals only to leave the animal adorably stumped as to what just happened.

While these are quite entertaining to watch, there is a team of scientists that have come up with a way of using magic to compare the way humans and animals perceive magic tricks using European Jays.

As it turned out, the birds were quite clever, and on average were able to see straight through the tricks. Of course, there were a few that left them stumped.

Photo: flickr/Robert Pittman

The findings led a team of Cambridge University researchers to publish a paper that started a conversation on the potential to be found in neuroscience research related to animals and magic tricks.

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The paper found that these birds are very smart and not only could see through certain deceptions but they, themselves, have been known to perform little tricks of their own, like pretending to store food in one place, only to secretly hide it somewhere else.

Photo: flickr/Josefine S. (Protected by Pixsy)

The PhD student, Elias Garcia-Pelegrin, was the one who actually performed the magic tricks for the Eurasian jays and used three standard ones like the palm transfer, French drop, and fast pass. Garcia-Pelegrin, who is also a professional magician in addition to a cognitive scientist, used six jay subjects to test their capability of finding the worm in his hand.

If the birds were right, they got to eat the worm. In order to compare findings, he also permed other hand movements in front of these birds.

As he shared in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, “These magic effects were specifically chosen as they utilize different cues and expectations that mislead the spectator into thinking one object has or has not been transferred from one hand to the other.”

Photo: YouTube/Elijah Garcia

The research showed how the birds were able to correctly guess 60-70% of the time with the French drop or the palm transfer. The fast pass trick, however, stumped them a bit more as they were only able to get 26% of the guesses right.

The paper that was written shared that there are some similarities in the way that the birds hide food in the wild, and the magic tricks that were performed. The paper’s research wrote that jays as well as other corvids, “Conceal items in their throat pouch, akin to a magician’s use of false pockets, and will manipulate food items within their beak similar to sleight-of-hand techniques performed by magicians.”

Photo: YouTube/Elijah Garcia

Garcia-Pelegrin explained to Inverse that the research was certainly surprising, but they didn’t go into it with any expectations. However, it did help to change certain views on how birds are seen in relation to how they see magic.

Watch the video below:

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