Given their vibrant feathers and prominent combs, it is not difficult to imagine roosters sneaking an occasional glimpse in the mirror. In fact, recent research indicates that the birds may even be capable of identifying their own reflection.
Self-Awareness in the Animal Kingdom
A limited number of animal species possess the capacity to identify themselves in the mirror, such as elephants, dolphins, giant apes, as well as specific species of fish and birds.
Cognitive Abilities and Self-Awareness
One of the authors of the study from the University of Bonn, Sonja Hillemacher, stated that self-aware animals appeared to have more developed cognitive abilities, and that self-awareness was associated with social and emotional intelligence.
“This capacity constitutes an essential element of consciousness,” she added. “It is also fundamental for us.”
“Our findings suggest that roosters possess a degree of awareness that stimulates discourse regarding the welfare and rights of animals.”
Roosters’ Alarm Signals
Hillemacher and colleagues observe in the journal Plos One that when they detect an aerial threat, such as a bird of prey, roosters have a tendency to cry out to their fellow birds. In solitude, a rooster generally refrains from sounding the alarm so as not to attract the attention of a potential predator.
Mirror Tests and Rooster Behavior
During the initial phase of their investigation, the group positioned a rooster in one of two interior sections. They left the opposite section vacant, supplemented it with a mirror, or introduced an additional rooster.
Subsequently, the silhouette of a soaring hawk was projected onto the ceiling of the section housing the initial rooster by the team.
The results from 58 roosters indicated that when another rooster was visible to them, the birds made 1.33 alarm calls per bird on average over three experiments, compared to 0.29 alarm calls per bird when alone or when facing the mirror (0.43 alarm calls per bird on average). The team observed a comparable decline in calls when they concealed a second rooster behind the mirror.
Even when accompanied by the scent and sound of a second bird, the birds did not perceive their reflection as that of an additional rooster, according to the findings of the research team. Although this may indicate that roosters are capable of recognising themselves in a mirror, the team posits an alternative explanation.