Birds of A Feather, Video-call each other


Courtesy of Smithsonian Magazine

Sahasra Ponnuswamy, Staff Writer

The pandemic had an overall negative impact on our lives and weakened our relationships with our loved ones and friends. However, we were fortunate enough to be able to call and talk to those people online. Unlike us, our furry and feathered friends weren’t able to socialize with each other. Though the pandemic is mostly over, we are still finding ways to improve the quality and life of our pets. 

One example of this is how parrots are being trained to make video calls. Parrots are known as one of the most intelligent birds as they can easily imitate human behaviors just by observing us. Like us, parrots like reconnecting with those they know, and doing that greatly benefits them. Researchers from MIT and the University of Glasgow in Scotland recruited eighteen parrots as well as their owners to participate in this experiment. The parrots were trained to ring a bell to notify their owner that they wanted to call a fellow bird. The parrots could choose who they wanted to call and would over time enjoy their time online. 

Throughout the experiment, the parrots held 147 calls, which amounted to over 1,000 hours of footage for the researchers to use. The parrots engaged in several behaviors such as singing, learning, and even trying to interact through the screen. Ilyena Hirskyj-Douglas is a researcher at the University of Glasgow and she told the  New York Times that, “We had birds who would sleep next to each other…Sometimes they would leave the video call real quickly to go get something to show the other bird.” The birds engaged in many behaviors that we as humans execute during our video calls, which proves just how similar we are to our animal cohabitants. 

The video calls held many benefits for the parrots. Some parrots participating in the experiment hadn’t had a lot of contact with other birds of their species, so this experiment gave them an opportunity to interact with other parrots. One key highlight of this experiment was the bonding of two sickly and elderly macaws. According to reports, the parrots bonded very quickly and would even call each other back when one of them went off-screen. The parrots were able to somewhat engage in practices that they would have done in the wild. The video calls were an overall benefit for the parrots and a success for the researchers.

The experiment was one that was fun and not harmful to the owners. The parrots enjoyed making new friends and the researchers were able to gain new knowledge. Overall the experiment was a win-win for all parties involved and was entertaining to watch.