Thursday, March 24, 2016

Parrots: Wise Guy Cousins to Falcons?

African Grey Parrot
"Our falcon cousins? They got no sense of self-irony."
Google Images

Natalie Angier tells us that "Parrots Are a Lot More Than 'Pretty Bird'" (NYT, March 21, 2016):
Parrot partisans say the birds easily rival the great apes and dolphins in all-around braininess and resourcefulness . . . . "We call them feathered primates," said Irene Pepperberg, who studies animal cognition at Harvard and is renowned for her research with Alex and other African grey parrots. "They're very good colleagues," said Alice Auersperg of the University of Vienna, who studies the Goffin's cockatoo of Indonesia . . . . Studying the yellow-naped Amazon of Costa Rica, Dr. [Timothy F.] Wright and his colleagues have discovered that different populations of the parrot communicate with one another in distinct dialects that remain stable over decades, like human languages. Just as with people, young parrots can easily master multiple dialects while their elders can't or won't bother to do . . . . Seeking to understand why the yellow-naped Amazons in northern Costa Rica had a different call from those living 18 miles to the south, Dr. Wright's team tried moving several parrots from one site to the other . . . . The youngest parrot quickly mastered the dialect of its new home and began flocking with the locals. The older transplants, however, failed to become adept bilingualists and never quite fit in. Instead, they associated with each other. "They formed a little immigrant enclave," Dr. Wright said, adding, "Vocal similarity is very important for maintaining social relationships," in parrots as in humans.
What about their famed ability at mimicry?
Dr. Wright said that captive parrots' renowned talent for promiscuous vocal mimicry -- of human speech, a multipart car alarm, a cat's meow -- is probably a byproduct of an innate desire to parrot its own kind. "It's extremely rare to find mimicry of other species in wild parrots," he said.
That would make sense. Why draw attention to oneself by mimicking other species, for instance, a cat, even if it is the cat's meow. Interestingly, parrots go not for fruit itself -- which I'd always thought they gorged on -- but for the seeds of the fruit, so they have to find fruiting trees at the right time:
Fruiting trees are a patchy and unpredictable resource, and parrots often fly many miles a day in quest of food. Under such circumstances, searching in groups turns out to be more efficient than solitary hunting, especially when group members can trade tips on promising leads. "That can mean the development of a social system, as well as the neurological capacity to share information," Dr. [Leo] Joseph said. The vocal capacity, too: parrots call to one another continually, squawkishly, over long distances and short. "They are communicating to each other all the time," Dr. [Juan F.] Masello said.
There's a lot more in the article, so if you want to learn some other tidbits of knowledge -- such as the fact that parrots are closely related to falcons -- click on the link above . . . or here.

Labels: ,


Post a Comment

<< Home