During the pandemic, virtual calls provided a much-needed social outlet for those stuck working from home. Now, researchers have found that we might not be the only ones who benefit from talking to friends on Zoom. In a report by researchers from Northeastern University, the University of Glasgow, and MIT, it appears that parrots kept in captivity can gain a lot from socializing virtually.
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In the study, titled Birds of a Feather Video-Flock Together: Design and Evaluation of an Agency-Based Parrot-to-Parrot Video-Calling System for Interspecies Ethical Enrichment, 18 domesticated parrots were trained to initiate video calls on their own to other birds in the study. Training took place over a period of two weeks, and the video calls were cut off by the owners if their bird responded negatively to the call, or otherwise lost interest. However, at the end of the study, most birds stayed engaged with the call for the maximum allotted time (5 minutes). What’s more, is that researchers concluded that, after analyzing over 1,000 hours of footage from the calls, birds recognized each other as live birds (not recordings) and found enrichment from their socializing. Authors of the study advise interested parrot owners against attempting this study on their own, as a team of researchers and animal experts offered support and training, and that unsupervised video calls could cause stress and other negative impact to their pets.
In the wild, parrots are very social creatures, but tend to be kept as solo pets. It is not uncommon for a domesticated bird that is left alone to become unhappy, lonely, and exhibit psychological issues. Once the birds in the study became comfortable making calls themselves, they displayed some truly remarkable behavior, such developing favorite friends they choose to chat with, and even learning new behaviors from each other. Some enjoyed displaying their toys to their friends, some learned new vocalizations, and some even learned new foraging techniques. At the conclusion of the study, it became clear that training the feathered friends to be able to video call each other provided significant joy and well-being to these intelligent creatures.