Pigeons can learn to distinguish real words from non-words by visually processing their letter combinations, surprising new research from the University of Otago in New Zealand and Ruhr University in Germany shows.

The researchers found that pigeons’ performance was on a par with that previously reported in baboons for this type of complex task. Their study, which is published in the prestigious international journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences (PNAS), is the first to identify a non-primate species as having “orthographic” abilities.

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