15 votes

African grey parrots are the first bird species to pass a test that requires them both to understand when another animal needs help and to actually give assistance

2 comments

  1. [2]
    Davada
    Link
    I wonder what range of birds would behave similarly. I think crows can be trained to exchange currency for food, but I don't know how selfless they would act in the scenario. It's a shame that...

    I wonder what range of birds would behave similarly. I think crows can be trained to exchange currency for food, but I don't know how selfless they would act in the scenario. It's a shame that only two types of parrots were described in the article.

    4 votes
    1. UniquelyGeneric
      Link Parent
      I grew up with ~10 birds in my house, and ~30 in an aviary in the backyard (roughly 7-9 breeds total). I can tell you that this finding with African Greys is entirely unsurprising to me. I've...

      I grew up with ~10 birds in my house, and ~30 in an aviary in the backyard (roughly 7-9 breeds total). I can tell you that this finding with African Greys is entirely unsurprising to me. I've witnessed our birds feed our dogs peanuts (and specifically the peanuts, apart from all other parts of their food) from their cage. They are incredibly smart creatures, and it's not limited to their command of language (which is impressive on its own).

      Many of the birds we had could learn some form of call-and-repeat training. I don't know if it was the environment of seeing other birds being trained, but it did not seem specific to African Greys. That being said, an odd quirk is that the African Greys only chose to mimic my father's voice, not my mother (who had spent more time with them).

      Repetition is key, and those birds would learn that after the home phone rang that the first response is "Hello?". Like clockwork. This was amusing until we had a small stint of burnt food in the oven and they learned the smoke alarm, too...not as fun after that.

      Regardless, those parrots had clear and distinct personalities and always seemed to be thinking one step ahead of you. You could not fully trust these birds (they bit through my sister's lip when she tried to kiss them as a child), and they commanded an acknowledgement of intellect.

      They were constantly trying to find ways to escape their cage, and they stare at you directly in the eyes. These creatures were sentient. That being said, their real intellect was demonstrated in their mirror neurons. They could watch and mimic various head-bobs and dances I would do as a kid without any repetition needed at all. This created a form of a bond with them. One that felt more like a grandmaster acknowledging a peer, rather than two toddlers at the playground.

      These birds live 80+ years, which I'll attribute to their paleo diet (jk). I've seen dogs also show altruism, and they have less longevity and intelligence (arguable). I think the real discovery here is that generosity isn't a human trait, but a universal one (after a certain intelligence threshold is met).

      My takeaway is that we are all naturally inclined to be altruistic, and hopefully we can leverage that innate desire to bring us all together...regardless of species.

      7 votes