Parrots in captivity seem to enjoy video-chatting with their friends on Messenger

Parrots are social creatures by birth. In captivity, where they usually don’t have flocks to interact with, this can present some real challenges in keeping them happy and healthy. But recent research suggests that technology can help them meet more of their social needs. A led by researchers University of Glasgow and Northeastern University compared parrots’ responses when given the opportunity to video chat with other birds via Meta Messenger versus watching pre-recorded videos. And they seem to prefer real-time conversations.

The research builds on the results of a series of smaller studies conducted over the past few years, including one team that trained pet parrots to video call each other (with human assistance) and another to play tablet games. Most recently, nine parrot owners were given tablets to build for their pets, then observed for six months. During this time, the parrots, who got to know each other through video chat, were able to call for up to three hours in a total of 12 sessions. Half of these sessions were pre-recorded videos and the other half were live Messenger video chats.

Their keepers, who recorded the sessions, reported that the birds were more engaged during the live interaction. They initiated more calls in these scenarios and spent more time on average with the birds on the other hand.

The parrots were allowed to make two calls per session, and the researchers found that 46 percent of those who chatted on Messenger reached that limit, and almost half that limit when they watched pre-recorded videos. In total, they spent a total of 561 minutes video chatting on Messenger, while they watched only 142 minutes of pre-recorded videos.

“The ‘liveness’ look really made a difference in parrots engaging with their screens” Dr. Ilyena Hirskij-Douglas said, although he noted that further research would be needed before definitive conclusions can be drawn. “When interacting with another live bird, their behavior often mirrored the behavior they would engage in with other parrots in real life, which was not the case in the pre-recorded sessions.” Again, keepers mostly reported that live and pre-recorded calls had a positive effect on the birds.

“The Internet has great potential for animals to interact with each other in new ways, but the systems we build to help them do so must be designed around their specific needs, physical and mental abilities,” said Dr. Hirskyj-Douglas. “Research like this could help lay the groundwork for a truly animal-centric internet.”

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