Some Reflections About Reflections

The Magpie (Pica pica) and Bulbulicious may have more in common than just a color scheme.

© Helmut Prior et al. 17 July 2008

The study by Prior et al. published last week has prompted me to write of my Bulbuls.

I suspect that Bulbulicious recognizes herself in the mirror. This was not the case when she was quite young. Before she completed her first moult, her preoccupation with her reflection was sometimes accompanied by alarm ululations and even mild physical aggression. At least, any awkward moments with the mirror did not hold her attention for long. As she matured, I observed behavior similar to Gerti’s visual explorations [3.89 MB].

I, however, did not conduct a mark test [3.10 MB]. And having observed Bulbulicious flee, after what must have been for her a hellish experience of nail clipping, to a mirror and perch fixture where she seemed to therapeutically fluff (as in Scene 3 of Gerti’s visual exploration video), primp, and preen her precious feathers which I had mottled during the nail clipping, I cannot rule out that she has only learned this treatment of mirror reflection from me. She has observed me “preening” myself before a mirror; although, I can safely assume that she has not accepted my hair comb as any kind of preening utensil.

Bulbulcious is perched on my head, eyeing my barrettes, and prepared to defend
fearlessly my locks against the toothy aggressor of a hair comb. The photo was taken on 6 April 2008, before Boris was introduced; so I cannot blame him for the spotted mirror.

Boris, on the other hand, fails the mirror test much in the way that Harvey failed his [2.47 MB]. Boris spends most of the day seeking out reflective surfaces and fighting with “other Bulbul.” And his mirror test failure is not a one-time trick; he fails again and again. I have covered the mirrored medicine cabinet, fearing that he would injure himself (and anyway, he soils the mirror). He soon found other mirrors from which I had to protect him. Especially now that his companion is preoccupied with nesting, he is willing to entertain any specular opponent.

And he pursues his opponents quite obsessively. Since preventing his access to the mirrored medicine cabinet, I have watched him fight with “Magnified Bulbul” in the concave shaving mirror. When I spotted him picking a fight with “Vanity Bulbul,” I covered the mirrored vanity tray with some fabric. I occasionally find him digging vigorously beneath the fabric for another shot at his vain opponent. And then there was a daunting “Knick-Knack Bulbul” in the glass pane of my knick-knack shelf, which Boris has disturbed. For now, I think that I have stifled all specular reflection in the apartment, or at least Boris must work hard in order to fight hard. Unfortunately, since Boris-proofing the place, he appears to be bored sometimes. So I did leave one for him . . .

Interestingly, while he fights with all mirror reflections, he has a more complicated relationship with his reflection from the oven window. I have heard and seen him singing and dancing for “Oven Bulbul.” Somehow the signal that stimulates Boris’s aggressive behaviour, is filtered out of the oven window reflection, and what is reflected, he treats quite affectionately, again, especially while Bulbulicious is preoccupied on the nest!

Press releases for the Magpie self-recognition study:
1. I, Magpie
2. Сороки Блещут Интеллектом



~ by finchwench on Wednesday, 27 August 2008.

2 Responses to “Some Reflections About Reflections”

  1. […] Caught in the Act I wrote before about how Boris fails the mirror test. Since then, Boris has had altercations with “TV Bulbul,” and here is some photographic […]

  2. […] Test: FAIL So far I report that two of three Bulbuls FAIL the mirror test. By the way, both failures are males, but it is too soon jump to any sexist […]

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