University research sheds light on parrot habits

Parrots can understand and enjoy the concept of sharing, a recent study from the University of Lincoln’s School of Life Sciences has found.

Griffin the Parrot. Photo: University of Lincoln
Griffin the Parrot. Photo: University of Lincoln
The study, carried out in conjunction with American universities Harvard and Brundeis, showed that grey parrot Griffin (pictured) consistently chose to share with a human over being selfish or spiteful.

“We found that they are able to share even more if they are playing with a human partner than with another bird,” Dr Franck Péron, the Lincoln researcher who conducted the study, told The Linc.

“Until now, we only knew that these sharing capabilities existed in humans and primates, mainly chimps, so we wanted to test other species,” he explained.

Griffin was chosen for their research because of past research that shows the intelligence of parrots. “We decided to test parrots because they have a bigger brain size than other birds and are easier to handle,” Dr Péron said.

“Also, when you are living with these kinds of birds, they seem to be very bound with their owner, looking to want their owner is doing, and asking for attention.”

The grey parrot would choose between four different coloured cups – green allowing both him and his human partner to receive a treat, pink selfishly demanding a treat for himself only, orange giving a treat away to the researcher, and violet spitefully denying anyone a treat.

Griffin consistently chose the green sharing cup, with only a few exceptions, for each human partner he came into contact with.

Dr Péron noted how their research was different to any perceived sharing that would occur in their natural habitat:

“Within the parrot species in the wild, the sharing is done for sexual interaction or for the survival of offspring – it’s based on something more innate, rather than something artificial, which is what we have done here,” said Dr Péron.

He also revealed that Griffin was the first of many parrots to be tested by the University of Lincoln for its sharing abilities in various scenarios.

“We have done other experiments with other birds within the parrot species and testing the relationships between them, but in the new studies we are finalising now the birds are either sexual partners or siblings, so this should increase their propensity to reciprocate and share,” he said.

However, once this study is over, there are doubts about whether mirrored studies will be done at other institutions.

Dr Péron expressed his happiness to be moving away from parrots. “Currently, I’m working with cats – something totally different. It was difficult to work with parrots because they have to be trained to do the tests, and that’s quite time consuming, so I don’t think we’ll carry on with this study after the next paper is published,” he added.

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