Considered as plague in many cities, pigeons in urban areas live close to human activities and exploit this proximity to find food which is often directly delivered by people. In this study, we explored the capacity of feral pigeons to take advantage of this human-based food resource and discriminate between friendly and hostile people. Our study was conducted in an urban park. Pigeons were fed by two experimenters of approximately the same age and skin colour but wearing coats of different colours. During the training sessions, the two human feeders displayed different attitudes: one of the feeders was neutral and the second was hostile and chased away the pigeons. During the two test phases subsequent to the training phase, both feeders became neutral. Two experiments were conducted, one with one male and one female feeder and the second with two female feeders. In both experiments, the pigeons learned to quickly (six to nine sessions) discriminate between the feeders and maintained this discrimination during the test phases. The pigeons avoided the hostile feeder even when the two feeders exchanged their coats, suggesting that they used stable individual characteristics to differentiate between the experimenter feeders. Thus, pigeons are able to learn quickly from their interactions with human feeders and use this knowledge to maximize the profitability of the urban environment. This study provides the first experimental evidence in feral pigeons for this level of human discrimination.
© Springer-Verlag 2011