Video Calls Help Domesticated Parrots Feel Less Lonely: Study

  • Domesticated parrots who video call each other are less likely to be lonely, a new study found. 
  • Experts helped owners train their pets to signal when they wanted to use tablets or smartphones.
  • When contacting other birds, the parrots exhibited increasingly social behavior, scientists said. 

Parrots that can talk to their “friends” over video chat feel less lonely and have an improved quality of life, scientists say. 

In a new study published in Proceedings of the 2023 CHI Conference on Human Factors in Computing System, domesticated parrots were trained to signal to make video calls to other birds.

During the three-month study, animal-computer interaction specialists at the University of Glasgow, Northeastern University, and MIT collaborated to investigate the effects of increased interaction between the pets.

They examined over 1,000 hours of video observations of 18 parrots, finding that the they engaged more regularly in social behavior like singing and preening.

The parrots who made the most calls also received the most calls from other parrots, which suggests the experiment helped the birds be more social. 

Parrots are known to be highly intelligent animals who live in large flocks in the wild, according to a University of Glasgow press release. But in captivity, they suffer from isolation and boredom as they’re often kept alone or in small groups.

In the study, caretakers of the parrots, who were volunteers from the US, also bonded more closely with their pets during the study, scientists said. 

Calls were ended if the birds seemed uncomfortable or distracted, per the press release.

Parrot on video call in new study published in ACM.

The research followed 18 parrots who were taught to ring a bell in order to signal that they wished to make a call.

ACM SIGCHI YouTube screenshot

While there are 20 million parrots kept as pets in the US, they are “often lacking appropriate stimuli to meet their high social, cognitive, and emotional needs,” the study said. 

Jennifer Cunha, the coauthor of the study who helped to recruit and train the parrot caregivers, said that the findings were “encouraging,” per the release. 

“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. 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,” Cunha said.

Ilyena Hirskyj-Douglas, another author of the paper, added that study was important because it focused specifically on the birds rather than the caretakers.

“The animal internet is already here — there are hundreds of products on the market that let pet owners interact with their animals remotely over the net, but their design is primarily focused on what humans want, not what their pets need.”

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