Birds of a Feather Video Flock Together


Polly want to Facetime?

According to a recent study at Northeastern University in Boston, MA parrots that have been taught to contact their feathered peers with a video call app showed signs of feeling less isolated or lonely. Talking to their feathered friends turned out to be enriching.

Many parrot species live in large flocks — when they live with humans, they’re usually isolated from other birds except perhaps to watching them on TV or outside a window. Parrots do, to some extent, consider humans who they share their homes a part of their flock but then those humans leave the home. In the wild, half the flock doesn’t fly off to go to the office or to attend school. That’s a challenging adjustment for some parrots to make.

The parrots in the study were taught the association between ringing a bell and their owner bringing an iPad with a selection of birds. Then, the parrot could choose which one they’d like to call via video.

It was important to allow the parrots to choose which of their “friends” to call. Choice can be an important component of enrichment.

The parrot study took about three months. But it also included a three-week meet-and-greet session, where they were familiarized with other bird friends involved in the study.

This research is relatively new: the researchers believe this might be the first study of animal-to-animal video calling.

Although some zoo primates have chosen to Facetime members of their same species at zoos elsewhere. Though most zoos nowadays do maintain appropriately large enough populations of primate species, the notion is similarly to enrich the lives of the animals at zoos.

Parrots can by nature be hesitant to try new things. Some would mimic the parrot on the other end, others would initiative conversation – loud and raucous as parrots can be.

Although some ethical concerns were raised — including whether the video calls might stress out the birds instead of being enriching. The research team was careful not to assume the birds were having a good time, if indeed they were not.

The team also made sure that there wasn’t a risk for the parrots to become too bonded through the screen. They limited the number of calls and the length of the calls.

All and all there’s no question that the parrots greatly sought out these interactions which confirms the benefits of this parrot enrichment.