Image Credit: Photograph by TOBY HUDSON/CC BY-ASA 3.0
THERE’S A FAMOUS NURSERY RHYME about magpies.
If you see one, the rhyme says, you can expect sorrow in your future. Two bring joy, “three for a girl, four for a boy. Five for silver, six for gold, seven for a secret, never to be told.”
A new study from scientists at Great Britain’s University of Exeter and the University of Western Australia reveals a special secret about large groups of magpies, though it’s more of a boon for the birds than their spotters.
Growing up in a large social group seems to make wild Australian magpies more intelligent, they say, with birds scoring better on four separate intelligence tests when they’ve been raised in sizable broods.
Researchers in Perth, Australia, examined 14 different groups of wild magpies. These birds live in stable social groups akin to families, with multiple generations often occupying the same territory for years at a time. Some of these groups had just three birds, while others were a veritable flock of 12.