Lonely Pet Parrots Make Friends Through Video Chat

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Ellie, an 11-year-old Goffin's cockatoo, calls a friend (Credit: Matthew Modoono/Northeastern University)

Parrots are highly social creatures. They need the companionship of other birds for their well-being. This is easy enough in the wild, where they live in large flocks. However, the parrots that live in captivity as pets are often bored and isolated. But a new study has found that modern technology may help alleviate the birds' loneliness.

The Northeastern University-led study involved 18 pet parrots across a range of species. The scientists began by teaching the intelligent birds how to video-call on Facebook Messenger. They then spent two weeks introducing each parrot to two or three potential "friends" that were chosen based on their size and their time zone. Once the training was completed, the scientists let the birds decide when they wanted to make a call.

To initiate a call, the parrots would first ring a bell. This alerted their owners that they wanted a smartphone or tablet. The pets would then use their beaks to tap on the photo of the bird they wished to contact. Each parrot could call up to two friends daily and "talk" to them for a maximum of five minutes.

The researchers say the three-month-long study was a resounding success. The clever birds made several calls and were extremely excited to see their new pals.

"Some would sing, some would play around and go upside down, others would want to show another bird their toys," said study coauthor Ilyena Hirskyj-Douglas.

Researchers found that video-calling technology helped alleviate the parrots' loneliness
(Credit: Northeastern University/ Glasgow University)

A few parrots even learned new skills, like foraging and flying, from their online friends. Even more interesting, many parrots chose to call the same birds repeatedly. This suggested they were forming long-lasting friendships. Jennifer Cunha, a parrot behaviorist at Northeastern, says that her cockatoo, Ellie, is still friends with Cookie, a California-based African grey. "It's been over a year, and they still talk," she says.

The scientists believe that video chats can recreate for parrots some of the social benefits of living in a flock by providing them with companionship and stimulation. However, they caution that not all pet parrots will take to online socializing. Some birds can get aggressive and even violent. They, therefore, urge pet owners to be careful when introducing the birds to the technology and to closely monitor all video chats.

Resources: news.northeastern.edu, Smithsonianmag.com, NPR.com


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  • ejf13
    ejf1320 days
    This is just plain silly, but I like it.
    • summer_beach
      That's really cool! I think they should make an app just for parrots (and maybe other animals that need to see or be around others of there kind). I own hermit crabs (though they should probably be left alone in the wild but I didn't know it at the time) and they need others of there kind too, they can communicate with sound called "chirping" (its pretty much a cricket and frog mix) but they mostly just hangout and use body language. 🦀
      • muriel
        murielabout 2 months
        This is awesome and all, but kinda sad at the same time when you think about how birds can't live their natural lives in flocks and stuff in the wild when they are kept in the house all the time where they can't talk to any other birds
        • tybiduhifohe
          Hyeonjeong Kimabout 2 months
          I love birds and my favorite kind of bird is a parrot.😀
          • lilac_liberty16
            lilac_liberty16about 2 months
            • blackandpinkgrl
              blackandpinkgrlabout 2 months
              • ailaalicorn
                ailaalicorn3 months
                That is so heartwarming! It reminds me of the saying "Birds of a feather flock together"
                • ailaalicorn
                  ailaalicorn3 months
                  Is anybody else in a huge hail/thunderstorm right now???
                  • elliekittyluv
                    So cute! But honestly I would not get my bird his/her own tablet!
                  • cocoacat