In an absolutely delightful new experiment, a team of scientists was able to show that once taught how, pet parrots can and will FaceTime their parrot friends.
While that may sound like a pointless endeavor on the surface, the new skill could solve a very real problem faced by millions of pet birds across the US.
"Over 20 million parrots are kept as pets in the US, often lacking appropriate stimuli to meet their high social, cognitive, and emotional needs," the researchers wrote in their paper, which was published this week in the journal Proceedings of the 2023 CHI Conference on Human Factors in Computing Systems.
During a three-month experiment, the researchers taught a total of 18 pet birds how to "engage in video-calling other parrots" to see if such a system can improve their lives.
And as it turns out, the parrots loved their new parrot-to-parrot video-calling system.
The system itself was pretty simple. The birds were first taught to request a chat by ringing a bell. Then, when the owners came into their cages to fire up a tablet, a screen featuring a lineup of their friends would appear. They'd select a friend to talk to, and the owner would hit the call button. Easy-peasy.
The researchers then studied the birds' behaviors, including their "perception, agency, engagement, and overall perceived benefits" — and the results were pretty astounding.
In fact, every single bird wanted to call a friend at some point. Having access to that level of social interaction overwhelmingly seemed to improve each of their lives, the researchers found.
Hanging out with their new pals, even just virtually, made them perk up. They even learned new skills, like flying and finding snacks, from each other.
As noted in an accompanying video, the researchers found that some birds formed especially close friendships over time, singing together and sometimes even attempting to groom one another.
"We had birds who would sleep next to each other," Ilyena Hirskyj-Douglas, a researcher at the University of Glasgow and study co-author, told the New York Times. "Sometimes they would leave the video call real quickly to go get something to show the other bird."
"Some of the caregivers would say that their birds came to life through these calls," added co-author Jennifer Cunha, a Northeastern-affiliated researcher.
We're not crying, you're crying.
The researchers also told the newspaper that any bird owners curious about introducing a similar system should always put bird agency first. Let them ask to video chat, and if they show any sign of distress, turn it off.
But that said, if you do have a parrot, you might just want to consider bringing parrot-to-parrot video chat into their lives. Who wouldn't want their pet parrot to live a measurably more fulfilling life?
READ MORE: Polly Wants a Video Chat [The New York Times]
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