How Are Those Parrots Doing That Thing?


Cooperation among animals is nothing new. Researchers have known for some time about groups of birds and mammals that live in the same area sharing food gathering and even child-care duties.

Many studies have shown the high cognitive abilities of parrots, including the small to medium-sized parrots called conures.

A new study, though, shows something amazing that has the researchers baffled: conures can learn to cooperate on a task even when they can’t see each other.

There is a commonly used test for bird cognition where two birds learn that if they each pull one end of a string at the same time, a treat is released. If they don’t coordinate the pull, no treat. Conures have been shown to learn this task with great consistency. But those studies had the birds together where they could see the string and each other.

Now, researchers at The University of Southern Denmark have done the same experiment, but in a way that keeps the birds from seeing each other.

They put a conure in a test box where it could see one end of the string. Then they let another bird into the box, but behind a wall, so the two birds couldn’t see each other. Nevertheless, the birds were able to learn to pull each end of the string simultaneously!

There was a lot of vocalization between the birds, so this suggests that the birds were able to communicate at a pretty high level. The birds learned not to even bother pulling on the string until their partner was in position and ready.

Although the increased vocalization may be a clue as to how the birds are able to cooperate this way, the researched are basically stumped for now. Stumped, but excited at the discovery.

The study was published in the journal Animal Cognition.


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