Social experiments with animals, especially with birds, are nothing new. But teaching them to be tech-savvy like humans is something you may never hear of before! In a striking experiment, researchers taught more than a dozen pet parrots from different American households to video call each other. The study aimed to know if these social birds enjoy this communication method to get rid of loneliness, just like us humans.
It seems that we humans are not the only creatures capable of using and benefiting from video calls in tough times. The study, named ‘Birds of a Feather,’ recruited over a dozen parrot owners and their pet parrots to see if video calls could make the birds less lonely and improve their mental health. Northwestern University organized this unique study in collaboration with the University of Glasgow and scientists from MIT. They taught the parrots to initiate video calls by instructing them to ring a bell first, then touch another parrot’s picture on a tablet screen to make the call.
All the parrot owners were experienced bird keepers, capable of identifying signs of aggression, fear, or disinterest in birds. During the study’s first phase, 18 parrots made 212 video calls with a time limit of five minutes. In the following ‘open call’ phase over the next two months, 15 birds initiated 147 video calls to each other and also selected their preferred individual to call. The study showed that, alongside freely making the calls and understanding the presence of a real fellow bird on the screen, the parrots had garnered many positive experiences. The bird keepers overwhelmingly reported that many parrots even learned new skills from their video friends, including new vocalizations, foraging, and even flying. Also, the parrots initiating the most calls received the most chat requests from other parrots. Strikingly, this particular finding is also mirrored in human behaviors.