Sci-tech

New Zealand parrots enjoy a good laugh

New Zealand parrots enjoy a good laugh

For the New Zealand kea parrot, joy is contagious.

Scientists believe it is evidence of the kind of emotional contagion normally associated with irrepressible young children. These are outwardly emotive actions that spread from one individual to another such as laughter.

To carry out their investigation, the scientists recorded the sound and played it back to wild birds at Arthur's Pass National Park, on New Zealand's South Island.

Contagious "laughter" has also been reported in non-human primates, such as chimpanzees, and rodents.

Essentially keas have a call they use for each other and it appears to exclusively encourage playing, with the "emotionally contagious" communication something not all that common in the animal kingdom. - chimpanzee and rats show similar behaviour. They have identified the phenomenon in kea parrots.

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Schwing and his colleagues got interested in this particular call after carefully analysing the kea's full vocal repertoire.

While there was no response to the robin call, the kea call seemed to be something along the lines of "let's party", with the birds getting playful immediately.

While it might be a bit anthropomorphic, researchers said, the kea play calls can be compared to a form of infectious laughter.

"Upon hearing the play call, many birds did not join in play that was already underway, but instead started playing with other non-playing birds, or in the case of solitary play, with an object or by performing aerial acrobatics", the researchers point out.

Moving forward, the researchers plan to investigate the effects further to determine how play and play calls influence kea social groups.

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The researchers played recordings of the play calls to groups of wild kea for five minutes, along with other types of calls.

"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'.

Kea parrots can make a warbling noise that whips other keas in earshot into a playful frenzy.

"With greater understanding of the kea's unique qualities and interactions", Orr-Walker says, "we hope there will be a corresponding increase in empathy which ultimately will be what saves this species from extinction".

Previous research has shown that deaf rats are less likely to play than rats with normal hearing, but not being able to see does not have the same effect.

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