It Turns Out Parrots Love Videoconferencing

A recent experiment showed that parrots seem considerably enriched by the ability to video call other parrots. It’s important that the activity be done in a healthy and ethical way, so researchers do not recommend bird caretakers immediately slap a spare tablet in front of every bird — but the results are as heartwarming as they are encouraging.

Parrots are intelligent creatures known to require and benefit from intellectual and emotional stimulation, and their eyesight is such that they are able to use a display like a tablet screen much like a human would. They are also social creatures, and that led to researchers designing a pilot study to explore a parrot-to-parrot videoconferencing system.

The three-month study showed that when given the opportunity to initiate and receive video calls, every single parrot in the test group did so and all bird caretakers reported perceived benefits. Birds made friends, seemed highly motivated, and even learned behaviors by watching others.

Curious about the details? The published results (a PDF and two brief videos) covers all the bases. Parrot pals may also remember another time that technology enriched a feathered friend with a motorized buggy complete with beak-compatible joystick for steering.

18 thoughts on “It Turns Out Parrots Love Videoconferencing

    1. LOL!

      Five parrots separated at British zoo after encouraging each other to curse profusely at guests

      Nichols told BBC News that the parrots “swear to trigger reaction or a response,” so seeing people shocked or laughing only encourages the birds to curse more.

      “With the five, one would swear and another would laugh and that would carry on,” he said.

      “I’m hoping they learn different words within colonies,” Nichols added. “But if they teach the others bad language and I end up with 250 swearing birds, I don’t know what we’ll do.”

  1. I’m surprised this works because birds’ visual systems aren’t quite the same as humans. They have four color primaries although the three longest wavelength ones are close to the human primaries. They also have a much higher image fusion rate; the motion would look choppy to them.

    1. And it’s 2D. Imagine doing a video conference in black and white at 10 FPS. It would still work okay, especially if the audio is good. Definitely better than nothing. So maybe they are also communicating primarily via audio?

      Also, how did they measure this “image fusion rate”?

      1. I had to go look this up since it sparked some fascination.

        “We used an operant conditioning approach in which the birds were trained and tested for the task of distinguishing flickering from constant stimuli produced by LED-arrays simulating daylight. Flickering and constant lamps became indistinguishable at frequencies of up to 131 Hz for blue tits, 141 Hz for collared flycatchers and 146 Hz for pied flycatchers.”

        The video conference units are going to need some gaming monitors.

        1. I was gonna say, get them some 144Hz screens! Very interesting, thanks for looking it up.
          I’m curious to measure my own flickering tolerance now. I’m pretty sure something around 100 Hz would still be noticeable. The linked paper says humans would have around 50–100 Hz depending on stimulus size.

          1. Peripheral vision gets higher flicker rate, central vision gets lower. If you look past the object by 45-90 degrees, you can see it flicker while looking straight on, nothing.

            When CRT monitors were a thing, my threshold was generally 73 Hz.

  2. My family has a cockatiel, and he absolutely loves seeing me and my siblings on video chat when we call our mom. It’s interesting seeing that he’s not the only one!

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