Parrots taught to video call each other become less lonely, finds research

Green Parrots on branch
Chris Stoddard
Chris Stoddard

US study got owners to train their pets to contact other birds using a touchscreen tablet.

Pet parrots that are allowed to make video calls to other birds show signs of feeling less isolated, according to scientists.

The study, which involved giving the birds a tablet that they could use to make video calls, found that they began to engage in more social behaviour including preening, singing and play. The birds were given a choice of which “friend” to call on a touchscreen tablet and the study revealed that the parrots that called other birds most often were the most popular choices.

Dr Ilyena Hirskyj-Douglas, of the University of Glasgow and a co-author of the research, said that video calls had helped many people feel less isolated in the pandemic. She added: “There are 20 million parrots living in people’s homes in the USA, and we wanted to explore whether those birds might benefit from video calling too.

If we gave them the opportunity to call other parrots, would they choose to do so, and would the experience benefit the parrots and their caregivers?”

Their analysis, based on more than 1,000 hours of footage of 18 pet parrots, suggested that there were, indeed, benefits for the birds. In the wild, many species of parrots live in large flocks, but as pets tend to be kept alone or in a small group. Isolation and boredom can cause birds to develop psychological problems, which can manifest as rocking, pacing back and forth, or self-harming behaviours such as feather-plucking.

Video calling could reproduce some of the social benefits of living in a flock, according to Dr Rébecca Kleinberger, of Northeastern University and first author of the study.

The parrots were recruited from users of Parrot Kindergarten, an online coaching and educational programme for parrots and their owners. The birds first learned to ring a bell and then touch a photo of another bird on the screen of a tablet device to trigger a call to that bird, with the assistance of their owners. In total the birds made 147 deliberate calls to each other during the study, while owners took detailed notes on the birds’ behaviour and the researchers later reviewed the video footage.

Dr Jennifer Cunha, of Northeastern University and co-founder of Parrot Kindergarten, said that the parrots “seemed to grasp” that they were engaging with other birds because their behaviour mirrored that seen during real-life interactions. “All the participants in the study said they valued the experience, and would want to continue using the system with their parrots in the future,” she said. “I was quite surprised at the range of different behaviours,” said Hirskyj-Douglas. “Some would sing, some would play around and go upside down, others would want to show another bird their toys.”

The team’s paper is published in Proceedings of the 2023 CHI Conference on Human Factors in Computing Systems.

(Story source: The Guardian)

Related posts

  • Dogs can understand the meaning of nouns, new research finds

    Dogs can understand the meaning of nouns, new research finds

  • Licence to trill: Molly the magpie returned to Queensland carers after special wildlife permit granted

    Licence to trill: Molly the magpie returned to Queensland carers after special wildlife permit granted

  • The pet I’ll never forget: Oscar the cat, who opened my eyes to the power of male friendship

    The pet I’ll never forget: Oscar the cat, who opened my eyes to the power of male friendship