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In the wild, you’ll typically see parrots living in large flocks. They’re social birds, after all. Yet as pets, parrots are often kept individually, so it’s not surprising that they can experience feelings of boredom and loneliness.
And it would appear that, just like humans, parrots can ease those feelings of isolation by connecting with other birds over video chat. A recent study found that, with proper training, parrots can benefit from these calls, even learning new skills and forming friendships.
Researchers from Northeastern University, MIT, and the University of Glasgow recruited volunteers from an online program known as Parrot Kindergarten. Participating pet owners trained their birds to initiate a call with another parrot by touching an image on the tablet screen. Fifteen parrots were included in the second phase of the experiment, which allowed the birds to make as many calls as they wanted and choose which feathered friends to call. During the two months of the study, the birds placed 147 calls amounting to over 1,000 hours of video footage.
After analyzing the footage, the researchers noted a wide range of positive behaviors, indicating that the birds were enjoying their virtual playdates. They frequently stayed on the call for the maximum time allowed, sometimes singing, showing off toys, going upside down, or even exchanging a few words with each other. Some of the parrots appeared to learn new skills over video chat, including making new sounds and foraging.
Something to squawk about:
- The researchers are confident that the parrots understood they were interacting with other live birds, rather than watching recorded footage on the screen. Many of them chose to call the same parrot repeatedly, suggesting a bond of friendship.
- The United States is home to an estimated 20 million pet birds. Keeping a bird alone in captivity without adequate companionship and stimulation can lead to stress and anxiety, which can manifest itself in behaviors such as plucking out its own feathers. But before you schedule a parrot playdate, think again – birds are at risk of passing on a deadly disease called avian ganglioneuritis.
- Although the results of the study are promising for improving the quality of life of pet parrots, the researchers pointed out that suddenly subjecting a parrot to another bird over Zoom may not be a great idea without the correct training. In the study, the participating birds were under the supervision of experienced owners who carefully monitored their behavior and ended the video calls at the first sign of distress.