BEACON TRANSCRIPT – Researchers discovered that kea parrots from New Zealand have a ‘contagious laughter’. They have a specific call which puts other parrots in a playful mood when they hear it. This makes the kea parrot the first non-mammal with such an emotional feature.
On March 20th, the researchers published their study of kea parrots in the journal Current Biology. They spotted the “play call” of the bird, which has the amazing capacity of putting other specimens into a skittish mood. This was a novel discovery, as these birds are the first non-mammal beings to display such vocalizations meant to cause an emotional response. Previous studies discovered similar responses in rats and chimpanzees.
These calls resemble human laughter
Raoul Schwing, scientist at the Messerli Research Institute in Austria, and his colleagues were able to record the calls of kea parrots. They noticed that some birds started playing after hearing such calls. This led them to the conclusion that these calls were similar to human laughter. They caused an emotional effect on the birds which heard it and helped them get into a playful mood.
The researchers carefully analyzed the vocal repertoire of the kea parrot. Then, they wanted to see if birds in the wild could be able to respond if they issued their recorded calls. Thus, they played the birds recordings of their play calls for a period of five minutes. As a control mechanism, they also played some other kea calls and the calls of a different bird species, the South Island robin.
Kea parrots react even to ‘artificial’ calls
As a reaction to the recorded play calls, the kea parrots started playing with other birds or, in the case of a solitary play, they started doing acrobatics in the air or playing with objects. The researchers explained their behavior as follows.
“These instances suggest that kea weren’t ‘invited’ to play, but this specific call induced playfulness, supporting the hypothesis that play vocalizations can act as a positive emotional contagion.”
Thus, the final conclusion of the researchers is the fact that kea’s play calls can be compared to an infectious laughter. They do not invite you directly to be joyful, but they have this effect. Now, the researchers are developing a more extensive social study of kea parrots. This already counts as evidence that animals are not so different from us humans.
Image Source: Max Pixel