Researchers have discovered that some of our feathery friend enjoys making video calls just like some of us. Although, this shouldn't come as a surprise seeing that birds live in flocks in the wild. Loneliness can be a real problem for pet birds, so scientists at Northeastern University set out to see if video chatting with other birds could improve their quality of life. The results are amazing.
A group of 18 parrots, ranging from cockatoos to African Greys, have been trained by their owners to ring a bell when they want to socialise. They were then shown a series of pictures of different birds in the study and allowed to make up to two five-minute calls within a three-hour window. Although treats were originally used to teach birds to ring, they later fell into disuse.
Incredibly, the researchers found that strong bonds formed between many of the birds, and the parrots preferred whom to call. Not only have researchers observed call-and-response vocalisations that resemble those found in the wild, but many owners have seen their birds adopt new skills from their friends. These include foraging, flying, and even new vocalisations. One owner even commented that he saw his bird "come to life" during the conversations.
During the calls, the birds were closely watched by their attendants. These attendants were instructed to stop the video if the birds walked away or showed signs of distress. Although three birds from the initial group withdrew from the study, the remaining 15 had an overall positive experience. In fact, some have formed a permanent bond just like parrot specialist and Northeast researcher Jennifer Cunha's Goffina cockatoo who is still more than a year later speaking to the same African grey from the study.
According to Rebecca Kleinberger, an assistant professor at Northeastern University, this study is a great opportunity to improve the life of animals. She noted that parrots had only been kept as pets for a generation or two and were not tamed like cats or dogs. By staying connected with their peers, owners enrich their lives.
"We're not saying you can make them as happy as they are in the wild. We seek to minister to those who are already in captivity."
The researchers note that there are many reasons, including disease, that make some parrots unable to live with other birds in captivity. Videos are an important outlet for these animals, as the study of two older macaws shows. These two ailing males were mated together and their bond was immediate. Although they never saw another macaw for most of their lives, they loved to dance and sing together. They even shouted, "Hello! Come here! Hello!" when someone leaves the screen.
Ilyena Hirskyj-Douglas, an assistant professor at the University of Glasgow who collaborated on the study added, “It really speaks to how cognitively complex these birds are and how much ability they have to express themselves. It was really beautiful, those two birds, for me.”