There Is No Excuse Left to Not Call Your Parents: Parrots That FaceTime Each Other Are Less Lonely
Loneliness is a huge problem these days, but it’s not just humans who suffer. Highly social animals like parrots can feel isolated too, since they’re supposed to live in flocks of other parrots but instead end up as the pets of eccentric divorcées.
To combat this problem, Ilyena Hirskyj-Douglas, an assistant professor at the University of Glasgow who studies how animals interact with computers, posed the following question: Polly wanna FaceTime?
Or as she put it in a recent press release, “Video-calling technology helped a lot of people through the early days of the COVID pandemic where self-isolation was vital to slowing the spread of the virus.” And so, considering that there are 20 million parrots living in people’s homes in the U.S., she wanted to see if the technology could be similarly beneficial for caged birds: “If we gave them the opportunity to call other parrots, would they choose to do so, and would the experience benefit the parrots and their caregivers?”
The study, irreverently titled “Birds of a Feather Video-Flock Together,” followed 18 parrots who were given a tablet and allowed to choose which “friend” to call on a touch screen. Over the course of 1,000 hours of observation, researchers found that most of the parrots opted to FaceTime other birds. And the more calls they made, the more social behaviors they displayed (preening, singing, playing, etc.). Likewise, the parrots who made the most calls also received the most calls in return, indicating that video-chatting made them more social throughout the experiment.
“The parrots seemed to grasp that they were truly engaging with other birds onscreen and their behavior often mirrored what we would expect from real-life interactions between these types of birds,” explained Jennifer Cunha, study co-author and co-founder of Parrot Kindergarten, Inc., an organization used to recruit and train the parrot caregivers. “We saw birds learn to forage for the first time, and one caregiver reported that their bird flew for the first time after making a call.”
To Cunha and Hirskyj-Douglas, the study is a step toward exploring how technology can help domesticate animals stay connected with each other. But for humans, the study further underscores how much of a dick you are not for reaching out to your friends and family more often. After all, if a parrot can do it, then what’s your excuse?
Call your mom, bird brain.