The Potential of Video Calls to Alleviate Pet Parrot Loneliness

Parrot with colorful feathers in a zoo.

Half of the world's parrot population are now kept as pets in homes worldwide. (Image: Xin Hua via Dreamstime)

In the continually evolving landscape of pet care, a recent breakthrough combines our growing dependency on technology with the innate need for companionship in pets. A collaborative research project conducted by scientists from the United States and Scotland has unlocked a surprising capability in pet parrots. They have successfully trained these intelligent birds to engage in video calls with each other, an innovative solution that has shown promising results in alleviating feelings of loneliness and enriching their overall quality of life.

The plight of solitude in parrots

Detailed statistics from 2021 revealed that approximately 50 million parrots, accounting for half of the world’s parrot population, are kept as pets in homes worldwide. Unlike cats and dogs, which have been domesticated for thousands of years, parrots are relatively recent additions to the world of pet ownership.

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In the wild, parrots are incredibly social creatures, typically living and interacting within large, dynamic flocks. However, when brought into domestic settings, parrots often live alone, deprived of their usual social structures. This drastic shift can lead to feelings of isolation and loneliness in these intelligent birds.

A flock of parrots in flight with green vegetation in the background.
In the wild, parrots are incredibly social creatures, typically living and interacting within large, dynamic flocks. (Image: Jiri Hrebicek via Dreamstime)

The psychological consequences of isolation

The solitude that many pet parrots experience can lead to psychological disturbances, signs of which can be seen in their behavior. They may exhibit symptoms such as repetitive pacing or rocking, indicative of stress and frustration. In more severe cases, the isolation can drive parrots to engage in self-destructive behaviors such as plucking out their own feathers, causing physical harm to themselves.

A creative solution: Video calls to combat loneliness

Inspired by the way humans have used technology to stay connected during the global pandemic, a team of researchers from prominent institutions, including the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, the University of Glasgow, and Northeastern University, embarked on a unique study. They sought to investigate if parrots, known for their cognitive abilities, could benefit from video calling, a modern tool to provide a semblance of social interaction.

Training parrots for virtual interaction

The research team paired up with volunteers from Parrot Kindergarten, a renowned online parrot training and educational program designed for parrot owners and their feathered companions. They selected a diverse group of 18 parrots, including species such as the intelligent African grey parrots and the sociable cockatoos, for the study. These parrots were then trained to use a specially designed interface on a tablet to initiate video calls.

The power of virtual connections

During the course of the study, the researchers closely observed the behavior of the parrots during these virtual interactions. The birds displayed a wide array of behaviors, with some opting to sing melodious tunes, others preferring to show off their playful side by hanging upside down, and some even presenting their favorite toys to their on-screen companions.

Some birds showed off their playful side on video calls by hanging upside down for their on-screen companions.
Some birds showed off their playful side on video calls by hanging upside down for their on-screen companions. (Image: Oleksandr Marchenko via Dreamstime)

Potential challenges and future outlook

While the study brought to light the potential of technology in improving the lives of captive parrots, it also underscored the need for careful implementation. The researchers highlighted the importance of having experienced handlers guide the process, as poorly managed interactions could lead to negative outcomes such as fear, aggression, and even property damage. However, with careful management and further research, the future of parrot care could very well include regular video calls to other feathered friends.

This innovative study represents an exciting step toward improving the lives of captive birds. Through the use of technology, parrots can now experience a semblance of the social interaction they would naturally enjoy in the wild and it is hoped that this research will open the door to further studies that could ultimately enrich the lives of pet parrots around the world.

A shift in pet care paradigms

The use of video calls to enhance the quality of life of pet parrots is an example of how pet care paradigms are shifting. In a world where technology increasingly permeates all aspects of life, the ways we care for and interact with our pets are changing too.

As we continue to integrate technology into our lives and the lives of our pets, studies such as these represent a promising step toward a future where our feathered companions can lead fuller, happier lives, even within the confines of a domestic setting.

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