In a recent paper, the similarities between the way jays hide food from those who would steal it and the way magicians deceive the public are striking. Not only do jays and their fellow corvids; “Cache food items discreetly in among multiple bluff caching events,” the paper notes, they also; “Conceal items in their throat pouch, akin to a magician’s use of false pockets, and will manipulate food items within their beak similar to sleight-of-hand techniques performed by magicians.”
Garcia-Pelegrin is a professional magician as well as a cognitive scientist. As the video below shows, he used standard tricks to test Eurasian jays’ capacity to determine which hand held a worm. The jays usually saw through common techniques like the French Drop or the palm transfer, choosing the correct hand 70 and 60 percent of the time respectively. The Fast Pass technique fooled the jays and they got just 26 percent of trials right.
However, when showing the same tricks (bird removed from video) to 80 humans, their success ranged between 13 and 27 percent for the three tricks. So, 1 point to the birds, 0 for humans.
I love it when cross-pollination of fields of study can produce these kinds of innovative discoveries. I first saw people performing magic tricks with dogs and monkeys a few years back and was amazed how they also were tricked. Especially dogs that have better senses of smell. Check out this non-scientific video here: