Public Domain

The New Zealand robin, or “toutouwai,” is a sparrow-sized bird found only in New Zealand. They are friendly and trusting, often coming to within a couple of feet of people.

My dog can count. I’m sure of this fact. After her daily walk, if she doesn’t receive precisely two treats, I will hear about it. If I try to shortchange her by offering only one, she will hound me until the second one is produced.

While I have hard evidence that she can count up to two, I suspect she may be able to count as high as seven. Every Sunday morning, my husband goes out to purchase a newspaper at our local convenience store, and he likes to take the dog with him on the car ride. Somehow, she seems to know when it’s that seventh morning of the week. She gets up early on that day and starts wagging her tail and jumping around. On the other six days of the week, she prefers to sleep in.

We’re not the only species in the animal kingdom that can count: recently, New Zealand robins have demonstrated their math abilities. ©Bernard Spragg.NZ, flickr

That’s why a new report published in November 2014 in the journal Behavioral Processes caught my attention. It demonstrates arithmetic ability and awareness in a wild population of New Zealand robins (Petroica australis), or toutouwai in Maori. In an experiment, researchers from the Victoria University of Wellington, School of Biological Sciences, tested the birds in a natural setting. The robins received neither training nor any rewards. The scientists showed that the birds felt agitated and “cheated” when they saw two mealworms going into a box but could only get one out.

Watch the video below, which depicts early trials with the robins taped a few years ago. It seems that all of us who belong to the animal kingdom appreciate the power of math when it comes to counting our expected treats.

Here’s to finding your true places and natural habitats,