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Parrot Research Update

Melissa L. Kauffman, Editorial Director, BirdChannel
October 27, 2011

I am not sure who first came up with the idea that human beings are so incredibly talented that all the other creatures that share this earth just can’t live up to us in abilities. I’m not saying we should just sit back and let chinchillas take over the world, but perhaps just a little humility might be order in some instances for us human beings. For those of you who have always known how brilliant your birds are, the following two research studies shed a little more light on exactly how right you are.

An amusing, yet interesting, research story out of Japan is that a team of Japanese researchers found that budgies (budgerigars or parakeets to most Americans) have the ability to tap in time with rhythm. Now, we already knew parrots, along with elephants and people have this ability, so it was not a big surprise to me that budgies, which are parrots, are able to do this. Not only did the team of eight budgies tap in time with the rhythm, but they anticipated the beeps and flashing lights, which means they could predict the intervals in between the beeps and flashing lights. Since budgies can imitate human speech and have a sense of rhythm, researchers believe that is strong evidence of a connection between language acquisition and sense of rhythm. You can find the research in the British journal Scientific Reports.

Not only do some birds talk and have a sense of rhythm, but it seems that researchers have now found that some tropical birds may be capable of “mental time-travel.” That doesn’t mean you’ll see birds hanging out at the next Sci Fi Conventions promoting an upcoming movie about an army of mental time-travelling flocks of birds. Mental time-travel means is that one can access a past memory to fulfill a future need. For example, you love french fries. In the past you know you were able to buy yummy fries at Fred’s Fry shack, so next time you have a hankering for fries, you go to Fred’s. In the past, it was thought that only we super-special humans were capable of mental time travel. That is until researcher Nicola Clayton found out that scrub jays also remember the past and plan for the future. Once she opened the door, other studies were done and we now know that people, corvids, possibly rats and some primates have this ability. The latest findings in this area of research were recently published October 14, 2011, in the journal “Behavioral Ecology.” Researchers observed army-ant-eating tropical birds in Costa Rica checking out the ant’s bivouacs at the end of the evening after they had fed so that they could figure out where to find them the next day when they were ready to feed again.

So there you have it, soon research will prove that birds, too, can compete on “Dances with the Stars” and “The Amazing Race.” I bet the ratings of both shows would go through the roof!



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