Bird Calls.

Polly wants a video chat. 

And with a special friend.

Parrots are popular pets. They also are highly intelligent creatures, and they need social connection and mental stimulation.

A team of scientists wondered whether technology might help provide it.

So they enrolled 18 parrots and their owners in an unusual experiment. Would the birds connect over video calls?

First, participants taught their parrots how to request video calls. When a bird rang a bell, the owner would proffer a tablet or a phone with photos of other participating parrots.

If the bird tapped on one of the photos, the owner would place a call to that parrot.

'' The notion of choice was very important,'' said Rebecca Kleinberger, a researcher based at Northeastern University in Boston.

Once the birds learned the system, they began requesting more calls. Most birds appeared interested and engaged, tracking their video partners across the screen and peering behind the device when they disappeared from view.

They mirrored each other's behavior, sang together, groomed together.

SOME of the birds quickly developed favorite friends to call.

The technology does raise potential ethical concerns, said the scientist, who instructed owners who adopt the system to keep such calls short, and to end them if they see signs of discomfort or distress.

Video calls should be deployed thoughtfully, giving the birds agency and putting their welfare first, they added.

But the results suggest that the technology has promise, the researchers said. 

''Now we know that if given access to it, they would use it,'' said IIyena Hirskyj-Douglas, a researcher at the University of Glasgow, ''and they use it in very individual and very beautiful ways.'' [ Emily Anthes ].


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