Researchers teach parrots to make video calls

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April 27 (UPI) -- Researchers from the United States and Scotland said they taught pet parrots how to make video calls, and the birds developed long-distance friendships as a result.

The team, composed of researchers from Northeastern University, the Massachusetts Institute of Technology and the University of Glasgow, released a 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.


The study involved parrots learning to ring a bell that would result in a caretaker bringing them a tablet. The birds would use their beaks to select a photo of another bird on the screen, and a video call would then be initiated.

The parrots displayed behaviors during the calls that mimic the behaviors of birds in the wild, the team said.

"What the other bird would do, they would do, singing back and forth," Jennifer Cunha, a parrot behaviorist from Northeastern University, told WHDH-TV. "So, there were a lot of natural behaviors we saw between the two birds, even though there was a screen between them."

The researchers said the parrots started to develop friendships through the video calls, showing preferences for repeatedly placing video calls to the same long-distance companions.


"Some strong social dynamics started appearing," Rébecca Kleinberger, an assistant professor at Northeastern, told the Northeastern Global News.

The study suggests bird-to-bird video calls can improve the behavior and well-being of parrots kept as pets, especially those who are the only parrots in their homes.

"When they're kept as pets, very often they're the only bird in the household," Kleinberger told CBC Radio. "They do not have the opportunity to develop their own species identity."

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