African grey parrots spontaneously ‘lend a wing

People and other great apes are known for his or her willingness to assist others in need, even strangers. Now, researchers reporting in Current Biology on January 9 have shown for the primary time that some birds — and specifically African grey parrots — are similarly helpful.

“We found that African grey parrots voluntarily and spontaneously help familiar parrots to realize a goal, without obvious immediate benefit to themselves,” says study co-author Désirée Brucks of the Planck Institute for Ornithology, Germany.

Parrots and crows are known for having large brains relative to the dimensions of their bodies and problem-solving skills to match. For that reason, they’re sometimes considered to be “feathered apes,” explain Brucks and study co-author Auguste von Bayern.

However, earlier studies showed that, despite their impressive social intelligence, crows don’t help other crows. In their new study, Brucks and von Bayern wondered: what about parrots?

To find out, they enlisted several African grey parrots and blue-headed macaws. Both parrot species were wanting to trade tokens with an experimenter for a nut treat. But, their findings show, only the African grey parrots were willing to transfer a token to a neighbor parrot, allowing the opposite individual to earn a nut reward.

“Remarkably, African grey parrots were intrinsically motivated to assist others, albeit the opposite individual wasn’t their friend, in order that they behaved very ‘prosocially,'” von Bayern says. “It surprised us that 7 out of 8 African grey parrots provided their partner with tokens spontaneously — within the ir very first trial — thus without having experienced the social setting of this task before and without knowing that they might be tested in the other role afterward . Therefore, the parrots provided help without gaining any immediate benefits and seemingly without expecting reciprocation reciprocally .”

Importantly, she notes, the African grey parrots seemed to understand when their help was needed. once they could see the opposite parrot had a chance for exchange, they’d pass a token over. Otherwise, they would not .

The parrots would help whether the opposite individual was their “friend” or not, she adds. But, their relationship to the opposite individual did have some influence. When the parrot in need of help was a “friend,” the helper transferred even more tokens.

The researchers suggest the difference between African greys and blue-headed macaws may relate to differences within the ir social organisation in the wild. Despite those species differences, the findings show that helping behavior isn’t limited to humans and great apes but evolved independently also in birds.

It remains to be seen how widespread helping is across the 393 different parrot species and what factors may have led to its evolution. The researchers say that further studies are required to research the underlying mechanisms of the parrots’ helping behavior. as an example , how do parrots tell when one among their peers needs help? And, what motivates them to respond?

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