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Parrots Make Virtual Friends to Combat Loneliness

Pet Parrot

2020 was a difficult year for just about everyone. The Covid-19 pandemic brought everyday life to a screeching halt for much of the world and forced us to find new ways to connect and maintain relationships. From outdoor gatherings spaced six feet apart to virtual “happy hours,” some experiments allowed us to maintain our quarantine friendships. Others were just difficult reminders of how different things had become. One thing is certain, though, humans have never been more into video calls. From social gatherings to daily meetings, the video call has become a regular part of human life. Now, it seems, it may become a daily part of the lives of parrots too.

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A recent study indicates that parrots may enjoy video calling one another and may receive social gratification from these virtual interactions. Parrots are both highly intelligent and highly social creatures. Human caretakers often underestimate the needs of parrots. Parrots often live very long lives and may even outlive their owners. They are capable of being loud, destructive, or even aggressive, when their mental, emotional, and physical needs are not properly met. For this reason, parrot rescues often struggle to keep up with the number of relinquished birds.

Whatever can be done to provide enrichment and healthy stimulation for captive parrots, absolutely must be done. This new study indicates that, perhaps, one additional tool for parrot enrichment may have been at the owners’ fingertips all along. Staggeringly, every single bird which was trained to use the video calling function to contact other parrots via this study showed high engagement and interest. Across the board, parrot owners reported benefits, some of which were major, such as newly learned positive behaviors.

The study took place over three months and included a range of parrot species. All of the birds involved were taught to call another bird by selecting its image with their beak or tongue. Once taught, every parrot used this system to engage in video calls.

While this study may represent a huge opportunity to embrace new technologies with regards to parrot enrichment and mental stimulation, it also demonstrates the major shortcomings inherent in the keeping of exotic birds such as these. Parrot intelligence is often compared to primates. These birds are capable of problem-solving and tool use on a level that has, occasionally, been likened to even that of school-aged human children. On top of being smart, parrots are social animals prone to living in flocks and forming deep and long-lasting pair bonds. So why do so many parrots seem to live a life devoid of other birds? Does the human need for companionship truly have any right to supersede the incredibly complex needs that parrots demonstrably have? In any case, this study represents a tangible lesson on the intense social drives of these incredible birds.

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