My daughter woke me around 11:50 last night. My wife and I had picked her up from her friend Sally’s birthday party, brought her home, and put her to bed. My wife went into the bedroom to read while I fell asleep watching the Braves game.
“Daddy,” she whispered, tugging my shirt sleeve. “Guess how old I’m going to be next month.”
“I don’t know, beauty,” I said as I slipped on my glasses. “How old?”
She smiled and held up four fingers.
It is 7:30 now. My wife and I have been up with her for almost 8 hours. She still refuses to tell us where she got them.
Evidence has been mounting for a while that birds and other animals can count, particularly when the things being counted are items of food. But most of the research is done under controlled conditions.
In a recent experiment with New Zealand robins, Alexis Garland and Jason Low at Victoria University of Wellington tested the birds in a natural setting, giving them no training and no rewards, and showed that they knew perfectly well when a scientist had showed them two mealworms in a box, but then delivered only one. The researchers reported the work this fall in the journal Behavioural Processes.
“If you’ve got a mate that steals 50 or more percent of your food,” she said, you’d better learn how to keep track of how many mealworms you’ve got.