Eurasian magpie VS Gorilla

How could be the "Eurasian magpie" bird won the "Mirror Test" where Gorillas failed ?

In 1982, mirror tests on two, zoo-reared gorillas failed to demonstrate self-recognition. The authors wrote "[These studies]...suggest that the gorilla may be the only great ape which lacks the conceptual ability necessary for self-recognition." In 1993, a report was published that although six gorillas had previously failed to exhibit self-recognition.

The Eurasian magpie is the only bird to pass the mirror test. Researchers applied a small red, yellow or black sticker to the throat of five Eurasian magpies where they could be seen by the bird only by using a mirror. The birds were then given a mirror. The feel of the sticker on their throats did not seem to alarm the magpies, however, when the birds with colored stickers caught a glimpse of themselves in the mirror, they scratched at their throats - a clear indication that they recognized the image in the mirror as their own. Those that received a black sticker, invisible against the black neck feathers, did not react.


Birds lacks neocortex, the area where self-recognition was thought to reside. Then which part of the brain do birds like Magpies uses to process these complex cognition ? Why do Gorillas failed the mirror test ?

  • $\begingroup$ Pigeons have also been shown to be self-aware [1]: robertlanza.com/files/SCIENCE_Self-Awareness_in_the_Pigeon.pdf $\endgroup$ – AliceD Dec 16 '14 at 12:35
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    $\begingroup$ I think the mirror test is not a reflection of overall intelligence. It is one of many ways to reflect cognitive properties what we think makes us human onto animals. $\endgroup$ – AliceD Dec 16 '14 at 12:37
  • $\begingroup$ @ChrisStronks Neat! However, as the authors state, "We have demonstrated that a pigeon can use a mirror to locate an object on its body which it cannot see directly. We should not attribute this, however, to a pigeon's 'self-awareness' or claim that a pigeon has a 'self-concept.'" $\endgroup$ – augurar Dec 21 '14 at 9:22
  • $\begingroup$ Identifying oneself from a reflection needs relative comparison of particular movements and gestures from the image and thyself. Identifying from the mirror reflection is not always attributed to self awareness or overall intelligence, but there is still a complex mechanism working behind to enable this feature. The question mostly regards why gorilla(being a primate) failed and magpie(being a bird)achieved. $\endgroup$ – Jayachandran Dec 22 '14 at 9:17

I think this website provides a pretty surprisingly thorough breakdown of avian brain anatomy, including historical contexts and debate around what exactly is homologous and what is not, and whether 'homologous' is a useful bit of information.

In short: It was thought until recently that the bird brain was just the core of the mammal brain with some layers peeled off, but it turns out to be more like a scale model, with many of the same parts. Roughly. Sort of.

So birds do not technically have a neocortex. They have a structure that looks like a neocortex, but it also looks like some other things. Gorillas do have a prefrontal cortex etc (even if they are smaller than in humans). The knowledge that structure X performs function Y in an organism generally implies little about a second organism, with or without structure X. Even features like 'wings are for flying' and 'fins are for swimming' have exceptions.

  • $\begingroup$ Nice answer (+1) - could you perhaps summarise the detail on the webpage you linked too? $\endgroup$ – rg255 Dec 17 '14 at 9:44
  • $\begingroup$ Uh. Is the second paragraph deficient in some way? I've tried to summarize the salient points to this discussion. $\endgroup$ – Resonating Dec 17 '14 at 10:00
  • $\begingroup$ The second paragraph summarises the general message of the site linked, but it would be good to expand on the detail of the first paragraph (partly in case the link ever goes dead, that would make the answer obsolete). $\endgroup$ – rg255 Dec 17 '14 at 10:02

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