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Parrots will share currency to help their pals purchase food (2020) (smithsonianmag.com)
243 points by rbanffy 12 days ago | hide | past | favorite | 101 comments





The setup is transparent plexiglass. I suspect a bit of Clever Hans effect here. The parrot may share its token to appease the researcher (who they've learned controls the food), not the other parrot.

It's quite unfortunate that they didn't test this when both parrots' food holes are open. Nor did the "middleman parrot" appear to share its walnuts back the other way.

Then again, given that these are Ivy League parrots there is a solid chance at least one of them has read Das Kapital (and can repeat it back better than most students!)


I wasn't aware ETH Zürich was considered the Ivy League!

But all jokes aside I think you should give these professionals a little more credit--they also factored that possibility into their experimental design and included tests for "useless" token transfers [0]. While parrots would often transfer tokens to empty compartments (for when they knew their neighbor was missing and lacked tokens), these same parrots did not when there was a completely empty partition [1]. Further even the article notes they didn't just hand out tokens automatically or willy-nilly, but were more or less willing depending on the bond.

Personally I think the most interesting thing about the study is not that non-mammalian animals have the capacity for altruism or prosocial behaviors, but that Blue Headed Macaws (despite being extremely intelligent as well) were not willing and the difference is that their general populations form smaller (though equally cohesive) flocks compared to AGPs.

EDIT: and the reason why they used tokens vs direct walnut transfer is that these birds were trained in a prior experiment (with an equally interesting premise) [2]

[0] https://www.cell.com/current-biology/fulltext/S0960-9822(19)... [1] https://www.cell.com/current-biology/fulltext/S0960-9822(19)... [2] https://www.nature.com/articles/s41598-018-30933-5


Ah misread the article, there was a quote from a Princeton University researcher who was not related.

"Useless tokens"... there's another joke about NFTs in there somewhere.


I thought the same; to actually prove those birds are willing to give away their tokens and loose out on walnuts in the process, they should have been granted the option to trade their tokens themselves. The way the experiment was carried out seems to be based on lots of brittle assumptions…

You might find this TED talk (and the clips of experiments shown during the talk) interesting: https://www.ted.com/talks/frans_de_waal_moral_behavior_in_an...

Good link! I'm familiar with Frans de Waal. Perhaps I'm a primate chauvinist, but I'm less skeptical of ascriptions of anthropomorphic social behavior in chimps than in parrots.

Unlike the "altruistic" parrots, chimps are very aware when their neighbor gets a treat and they don't--and they get enraged!


I felt the same way. If they don't share walnuts directly then that's not what they're intending to do. They likely see a local lack of value to the rings, meaning seeing them exchanged satisfies curiousity but perhaps not seen as being socially benevolent (although it might, I don't discount entirely)

We have an African Grey parrot - my daughter said she was in the room and he was busy eating and dropped some food on the ground - he looked at it then vocalized "bye bye".

We say "bye bye" to him whenever we leave the house.

Another one is the phrase "kom kom" (come here) whenever he is outside on his perch and we want him to come inside.

He then started using the phrase "kom kom" with my wife when he wants to be picked up by her.


I have an African Gray as well. It has learned peoples’ names and “come here”, and now says “come here Steve” which caught me off guard.

Same here. My African Grey parrot also regurgitates food for me. So I'm not at all surprised by this study.

A fascinating article that once again demonstrates we are just barely scratching the surface when it comes to understanding the intelligence, let alone the lived experience, of other animals.

This reminds me of the recent debate we were having here regarding the conclusion in the UK that lobsters are sentient beings and therefore should be treated with some minimal amount of consideration. A common argument made by those who argued they should not, or should not be placed into a similar category as octopuses, is that lobsters are neuronally less complex than other beings. But here we see that these birds, which also have fewer neurons than other animals we consider to be more “advanced”, are capable of remarkably complex behaviours that hint at an interior life we simply do not understand.

We’ve poured money into SETI to try and answer the anguished question, are we alone? Well, it seems that we aren’t, but we might be too stupid and self-absorbed to notice.


> We’ve poured money into SETI to try and answer the anguished question, are we alone? Well, it seems that we aren’t, but we might be too stupid and self-absorbed to notice.

There was an episode of the second season of the new "Cosmos" where they looked at SETI.

One of the points of the episode was that we might be looking right at intelligent life and not even recognize it. We tend to only see intelligence when it comes from an individual organism with a brain. We tend to dismiss or not even consider other ways there might be intelligence and gave a couple examples from here on Earth.

One example was bees. A bee hive as a group exhibits intelligent-like behavior beyond what an individual bee is capable of.

Another example was forests. Underground in forests there is a vast network of mycelium linking the plants together. When something bad happens to a tree that gets communicated through the mycelium network to other trees and they react making changes to better cope with the threat. It operates very similarly to a nervous system for the whole forest, but much slower than animal nervous systems.

If most intelligence in the universe is hive minds or is big slow brains like planet-spanning mycelium networks we might completely overlook it.


"If most intelligence in the universe is hive minds or is big slow brains like planet-spanning mycelium networks we might completely overlook it."

Or intelligent life made up off entirely other principles(and with very different goals to survive), than what we know. Do we understand what is going on inside of jupiter? Or inside the sun? Maybe there is life, that starts to evolve at certain pressures and temperatures? Well, maybe not likely, but I am glad, that the self centered philosophy, that the sun and the whole universe all are moving around us humans who are on top of it all, fades a bit more. I mean, we clearly are awesome at technology and so far we have not seen much technology from any other species. But maybe very advanced life has no need for our tech anymore, so we would not spot it, by looking for it.


>maybe very advanced life has no need for our tech anymore, so we would not spot it, by looking for it.

such as the zoo hypothesis: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Zoo_hypothesis


I think when we talk about finding intelligent life, what we really mean is "intelligent life on other planets". We know there's intelligence here on earth in those examples you describe. But what of it? We are already studying those things and trying to understand them. What's groundbreaking is not that there is intelligent life, but that there might be on different planets.

Mostly we want to find life elsewhere that is interstellar. We look for side effects of tools, like radio frequency.

I suppose an advanced civilization between planets or even stars might have migrated off radio signals though.


Or they might have learned that the galaxy is dangerous and masked any such signals. !!

There are two ways to approach such findings. One is to think of birds/lobsters/octopuses as more cognitively complex, intelligent and such. The other is to think of ourselves as less so.

Sometimes the latter probably is more true.

By way of analogy... When I was a pup studying philosophy, we studied the "other minds problem." How do we know what others feel and experience? Are we sure they're not faking it? How well can we understand another's mind? It's an old problem, and the philosophical tradition of questions, answers and arguments are rather old and formulaic.

I think newer thinking, both scientific and philosophical, tends to reverse the "problem." We understand others by forming a mental model of them, narrated with feelings and experiences. This is a lot like we understand ourselves.

We really do understand ourselves much like we understand others. Same mechanisms, more or less, I think. Mental model of a person + constant narratives to explain choices, feelings and such.

You can either think of this as a solution to the "other minds problem" or a further problem.


Eh, wasn't this refuted?

We tend to not have mental models of others at all. Our brains run "flat" copies of ourselves and any deviation from that model, results in discomfort and categorization as either "inferior" or "superior" depending on visible outcome of actions. The effect of "genius" is, that seemingly stupid choices by others result in perceivable good outcomes, without us having a mental model to fill that gap.

So we do not have mental models for others- at all. We have a world filled with copies of ourselves and at best a zoe of heuristics and anecdata, were the "other" begins and ends.

The closest you get to having a real mental model- is a longterm relationship and getting to know that partner really well. And even then..


Erm ... running a copy of yourself with other-person-specific modifications IS a mental model

We absolutely have theories of mind.

Poured money into SETI? Which money is that? SETI hasn't recieved meaningful public funding for a long while, decades. As a species, we spend more on makeup glitter than we do on searching for extraterrestrial intelligence.

The vast majority of seti is about combing through data from other projects. Basically zero telescope time is used for actually looking. Every candidate signal (ie BLC1) is discovered after the event. And zero telescopes are actively listening for repeat signals.


This reminds me of the short story “The Great Silence” by Ted Chiang, so I can recommend that to anyone intrigued by your comment.


Several people have objected to my use of the phrase "poured money into SETI". To clarify:

1. I agree that "poured" is an overstatement (and I support spending more!)

2. However, by "SETI" I did not mean NASA's SETI program but more broadly, programs and research with the goal of finding extraterrestrial life and then subsequently, extraterrestrial intelligence. Do the Mars rovers, for example, fit into this broader SETI category? It's debatable.

What I was really referring to, however, is our myopia when it comes to seeking evidence that we aren't alone. Imagine we did receive a radio transmission from outer space. How much money would we spend on understanding it, and the beings that sent it? I'd wager the sums would be vast.

Meanwhile, there are apparently only ten vaquitas (a species of porpoise) left in the world. Science was unaware of this species until 1958. We know cetaceans are incredibly intelligent, but what if vaquitas are far more intelligent than we suspect? I expect that what we don't know about them far outweighs what we do. What if they, or some other species we've either destroyed or almost destroyed, are the "aliens" we're looking for?

I know this seems like a stretch, but just how confident are we about this? If you look at what we've learned about animals in the past century, how much more might we learn in the next ten centuries? How much would we have learned had we not killed them?


And plants too, we do not see in this way. I am reading Overstory, from Richard Powers. Apart from bring beautiful stories, it shows how plants are not too different, when looked at a different timescale.

I believe we consider more advanced what looks more like us (dog yes, insect no).


>We’ve poured money into SETI

Poured is a gross overstatement.


You misunderstand what is happening.

For SETI to be safe, first we must ensure we are safe! And that requires funding, funding into the military, to test, and develop our weaponry, our soldiers, to ensure that when those alien hordes hear our signals, we are ready for them!!

You don't want to destroy us all, to give in to those evil, ungodly alien hordes, do you Mr President?

Do you?!

Soon...

Military funding approved!


Another problem is when people argue based off words rather than knowledge of the subject.

The differences between the meager number of neurons and simple layout in a lobster and the extremely large and complex nervous system of an octopus are in no way comparable to the differences in nervous system complexity between a human and a bird. A lobster literally can be understood. It's nervous system is that simple, only ~100,000 neurons in small groups (less than a fruit fly!). There is very little mystery in it's operation. It is feasibly enumberable, developmentally predictable, and it's parts are knowable in function. It is not conscious like a mammal, bird, or octopus is conscious.

Bird and human brains are of a similar order of complexity. Complex enough we can't even begin to hope to understand the functioning yet.


> It is not conscious like a mammal, bird, or octopus is conscious.

I do not see how you could know this, because consciousness and how it forms is exceptionally poorly understood. If in the past two years major breakthroughs have happened on this subject I would love to read about it. Perhaps you can point me in the right direction.


You don't need anything discovered in the last 40 years to be able to state that lobsters are not sentient. But, Rodolfo R Llinás' "I of the Vortex: From Neurons to Self" is a really great book that explores the underpinings of sentience from single neurons on up. The tldr; is that the structures which seem to be necessary (if not sufficient) for consciousness in mammals (like 30-40 Hz thalamo-cortical loops) do not and cannot exist in the structures provided by the lobster nervous system. Do lobsters have some seperate, unrelated implementation of sentience? There's no behavioral evidence to support it. They're just big insects. I think anyone claiming that 100k neurons can support sentience needs to be providing the proof, not me providing the context and evidence for why not.

Normally I would defer to your superior knowledge, but sadly I have done some amount of relevant university-level study of this subject with teachers that were experts in the field. They have always maintained that theories about how sapience develops and exists are just that: Theories. There is no solid proof of anything.

Since your response leans on "seems" and then deflecting to saying that the opposite of your claim should be proven (even though both are equally unknowable), I'm going to assume you don't have solid evidence one way or the other about it either.


What proof do you have that enumeration of function is equivalent to understanding? If I encounter a building-size device filled with large cogs and two stones, I can’t immediately tell from looking at it whether its purpose is to grind apples or wheat. So I’m not sure you can say that an animal is or isn’t sentient based on the organization of its cells.


Birds are smarter than humans because they understood there is value in a shiny metal.


there's a certain type of person who are big fans of SETI type projects. They're quick to say that if there's a mars colony, they'd go in an instant. But this type rarely ventures out from the warmth of their computer den. They never go mountain climbing or scuba diving or even camping. They get out of breath from walking from their car to the doritos section at the store. I think this type of person just wants fantasy.

> We’ve poured money into SETI to try and answer the anguished question, are we alone? Well, it seems that we aren’t, but we might be too stupid and self-absorbed to notice.

We seriously underestimate other animals' intelligence, but until some other animal on earth puts a flag on the moon, it's safe to say that no other animal on Earth shares our unique brand of intelligence.


I don't believe that necessarily follows. How much of what we are is a product of what we've built up? Take all that away and revert humanity to its pre-civilization state. To an outside observer, would we obviously be capable of one day going to the moon?

The moon is a somewhat facetious benchmark, but we harnessed fire some 400k years ago. Agriculture, or more generally culvitating your own food, is another major milestone that happened 10k years ago, or thereabouts. Those are more reasonable, especially because other intelligent species could piggy back off our technology to speed up their own progression.

I agree with you that we have a “unique brand” of intelligence but we’ve gone astray in ascribing a value judgment to that, in my opinion - as in, our brand is the best. Or, our brand is so much better than others that those others are worthless.

This doesn’t just apply to other species but also to other ways of being (“cultural intelligences”?) than our neoliberal, capitalist and technology-focused society. Our great technological achievements have been fatal for millions of other species and there is a strong possibility that they will be fatal for us as well. How intelligent is that?

I recognize that when we talk about “intelligence” in the context of the original article we mean something different than the more common sense meaning I used in my last paragraph. However it seems to me that the way we define intelligence is part of the problem. What’s a greater achievement, traveling to the moon or living for millions of years in harmony with the natural systems of the planet? Or who is happier, a blue whale or a Walmart employee?


> However it seems to me that the way we define intelligence is part of the problem.

Problem isn't how we define it, the definition we have is useful because it describes a very real qualitative difference between us and other animals. I think you nailed it on your first paragraph: the problem is the value judgment that goes along with that definition.


> How much of what we are is a product of what we've built up?

At least 1.5% by mass

About 3% of our body is nitrogen, about half of it comes from fertilizers made using Haber-Bosch process, an industrial chemical process that is unlike anything found in nature.

But if we count differently and consider agriculture in general as "something we've built up", then it is about 99.9%. It is estimated that the earth would support about 10 million hunter-gatherers, we are nearing 10 billion.


Correct me if I'm wrong but it seems like you're saying "take away what humans used their intelligence to build and it'll appear that they aren't intelligent"?

Sounds about right, because if they were intelligent then surely they would have built something is the common line of thinking. So taking away what humans have built and examining them through these same lenses would lead you to conclude that they're not intelligent.

What's so special about the moon? I say no life should be considered intelligent until they can swim down the Marianas Trench and carve their initials in the wall.

> We’ve poured money into SETI

I'm going to echo here that this is categorically false. All government funding for SETI was canceled in 1993. So, unless you believe zero dollars is pouring money into SETI, this is misinformation.


I'd say SETI is worth the effort. In the unlikely event we found another civilization, it would be the death blow to any religion who professes we alone were created, and in God's image. In one fell swoop, SETI could've been a Galileo or Copernicus and advanced rationality a century or two against the forces of mythology and religious superstition.

> it would be the death blow to any religion who professes we alone were created

Sentient lobsters are sentient lobsters, but another civilization could be anything!

Why, it could even be sentient lobsters.

(Apologies to Family Guy.)


Are there any widely practiced religions which claim that humans alone were created in God's image?

The experiments were done with African grey parrots, reminding me of another member of that species, Alex the Parrot [1]. Alex was taught patiently over many years with very intriguing results showing that Alex could communicate with his human handlers.

[1]. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Alex_(parrot)


Facilitating division of labour in parrots will provide the evolutionary pressure to uplift them over time.

Wholesome. Made my day.

Amazing! Can we try this with Ravens ?

That would be indeed interesting. Ravens are able to use tools, maybe they will grok currency concept too.

Behold, the Crow Vending Machine: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=iihdP3b6LXw

What if parrots also charged interest but the rates are just that low?

Very interesting. Also quite different from a lot of other birds, like seagulls, who are not that into sharing food.

I wonder if the same could be done with Corvidae.


It's funny you should mention seagulls! I used to live in a town on the Welsh coast with enormous seagulls which would often display their intelligence and coordination. They'd sometimes even appear to work in groups to steal food off people, though they tended to fight for it afterwards.

I also like how they stomp on the ground to trick worms to come up and eat them. It never fails to amuse me.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=6N93bKtWB6w


or to ride them to work instead of the bus.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=jzj6b2YV2aA


>like seagulls, who are not that into sharing food

https://youtu.be/H4BNbHBcnDI?t=28


>I wonder if the same could be done with Corvidae

Possibly. Food sharing is a huge part of socialising and pairing for corvids. For a lot of species the breeding season is started with food begging and sharing.


Yea, there are two misconceptions based on old sayings that always make me laugh in relations to birds. When people say bird brain as an insult to others. And when people say someone "eats like a bird", trying to say they eat so little.

These people obviously have never been around a parrot. I have an umbrella cockatoo and have been around parrots since I was a teenager and I am absolutely fascinated with them. First they eat a lot more than people think by far, and their intelligence is so misunderstood and underrated.

I've also seen similar studies and traits done with Corvidae (Crows/Ravens) which they show similar behavior and traits. Corvidae will work as a group to get everyone fed and will stand lookout and help each other with tools according to some recent studies.

My take away with animals is too often we as humans are too arrogant to understand other species are way smarter then we give them credit for. Of course, we also have to be careful not to anthropomorphize either which can also be hard because of our own viewpoints.


Well that was a bird-brained post. (I mean it as a compliment.)

It’s so well known here in Australia that sulphur crested cockatoos will have a lookout high above watching for predators while the others feed that it’s a slang term for a criminal acting as a lookout.

Every time I hear someone say "only man does such and such" I immediately think "bs".

Only man makes claims like "only man does such and such".

forinti immediately thinks "bs"

I bet you two are crows.

Well, if you put a bunch of smart creatures in controlled, contained environment and then create artificial scarcity in that environment, yeah I bet your gonna observe behavior that seems human. We're pretty much in the same boat!

Only man does

- Language

- Complex tools

- Symbolism

- Visual art

- Music

- Religion and mythology

And a whole bunch of other things.



1. Communication ≠ Language

2. I said "complex tools", not "tools". Yes animals use rocks to crack things. Do they build spears, clothes, pots, pulleys, ships, buildings, bridges, computers? I don't think so.

3. Quite a limited study, but I admit it's interesting, thanks.

4. Building a shiny nest has a functional purpose of signalling sexual desirability to potential mates by building a big decorated nest. There is no evidence any animal has a sense of aesthetics as such.

5. Birdsong has a functional purpose of communication and sexual mate-finding. There is no evidence any animal has a sense of aesthetics as such.

6. First sentence of your link: "There is no evidence that any non-human animals believe in God or gods, pray, worship, have any notion of metaphysics, create artifacts with ritual significance, or many other behaviours typical of human significance, or many other behaviours typical of human religion."


First of all I don't get why one would take such a dismissive stance on animals while still knowing so little about them. The fact that something stupendous as learning that parrots acknowledge currency is a front page article in 2021 is a mere indication of the poor state of knowledge that we still have.

Regarding the points you make, imagine if there were a evolutionary algorithm that learned to interact with animals such that it can "teach" animals to use certain things to their advantage, and evolve with them. Yes the algorithm has the true intelligence, but these critters have learned themselves to interact with such a device. Now apply this algorithm for generations and make the interaction with such an algorithm part of their nature. I am confident that you'd be suprised how far complex behaviour could go when provided the right stimuli.

Mind you that humanity was a simpleton organism a couple of millenia ago compared to what the modern era human are now. It took millions of years for us to reach this pivoting point where one is able to create the things you mention. I think you attribute a lot of the seeming intelligence humanity has that is learned over cultural habbits, than is intrinsically present. Sure you might argue that culture is part of intelligence.


> I don't get why one would take such a dismissive stance on animals while still knowing so little about them.

It is the only way to have such a stance. The more you know, the more you empathise.


I do in general agree with you. but it occurred to me - how many of the behaviors we take as signs of advanced cognition in humans are the result of evolution to improve mating outcome?


Apart from “religion and mythology”, pretty much everyone knows counterexamples to all of these claims. (By the standard of “if it's in children's newspapers, it's common knowledge”.)

This is wrong.

As a counterexample: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Whale_vocalization


Communication ≠ language. My dog can communicate with me in relatively extensive ways. She cannot produce language.

> She cannot produce language.

That you can understand ...


The best way for animals to survive in our modern world, would be to help more animals open their own bank account. Large companies won't chop down all that rainforest, and kill the animals, if the rainforest is full of potential customers. Let Adam Smiths invisible hand protect all living things.

The problem is that humans are more profitable.

Is there is a patch of land, the bank will get more money if some persons cut the trees and grow corn or palms or whatever, instead of having some ants doing some subsistence farming of fungus.


> The best way for animals to survive in our modern world, would be to help more animals open their own bank account.

The current way things are going, in more and more jurisdictions NGOs and Indigenous tribes can act on the behalf of nature itself in the legal system. It may not be a perfect solution, but it's the best we have until animals can learn to correspond with humans in some way.


> Let Adam Smiths invisible hand protect all living things.

I think this is the first time I've seen a novel stance on rights while reading comments on HN. I can't tell whether or not you are serious, but I very much hope that you are.


I can't imagine that anyone in love with birds is capable of putting them in a cage or on a leash. How could you take away so much freedom yet comfortably state that you love your pet? Sure you might think you treat him well, you pet him every now and then and provide it with some food and care, but is that truly an improvement? Is it better to provide a golden cage than to roam freely? I sure do hope that it will become a world wide taboo to hold birds as pets. If you're such an avid bird enthousiast, why not just stick with feeding the locals? Atleast those are free to decide to visit you or not.

Disclaimer: I think everyone in this thread agrees we should try to improve the lives of all animals

> why not just stick with feeding the locals? At least those are free to decide to visit you or not.

This is almost never a good idea (for any animal). Assuming you're feeding them the right type of food (bread is terrible for ducks for example), you're training the animals to rely on humans for food. This both makes it more difficult for them to survive on their own should you stop feeding them, but for some of the potentially aggressive ones (like geese) will become comfortable approaching humans, even the humans who do not want to be near them.

I've read your stance on animal rescue places and I generally agree - most aren't good or are glorified zoos. But I do think there's genuine ones that are helpful, and I think between those and rescues where you can give the animal direct attention are the best ways to humanely assist animals who would otherwise die in the wild.

My problem is with the traders and terrible owners who only use them as a show piece. A good owner should be providing ample enrichment and attention


I have a (large) parrot and I agree with you entirely, though please don't undermine the amount of work good parrot owners put into their ownership.

> I can't imagine that anyone in love with birds is capable of putting them in a cage or on a leash.

Because sometimes there isn't a choice. Birds born into captivity do not re-hab well. Rescues (as is mine) are generally not able to live in the wild if they were just 'released', so someone has to take care of them.

> Sure you might think you treat him well, you pet him every now and then and provide it with some food and care, but is that truly an improvement?

Yes. It is. Over the fifteen Rottweilers, the aggressive man-handling, the forced breeding (even though he hadn't even hit puberty, thus why the breeder no longer wanted him) and the absolutely terrible living conditions he was in - yes, my place of living is a huge improvement.

Further, good bird owners do way more than "just pet him every now and then". You need to give them undivided attention for at least two hours a day. You need to look at every single poop they make around you because it's the first warning sign of health problems. If they're happy, they're generally content where they are.

There's a lot that you're missing here, I think, even though I agree with the overall message. Please don't dillute bird ownership to PETA-esque FUD.

> Is it better to provide a golden cage than to roam freely?

Sometimes, yes. Just like all animal conservancy. If we didn't care to give them better lives than what they had before, then we'd just put them all down wouldn't we? That's what PETA wants, anyway.

> I sure do hope that it will become a world wide taboo to hold birds as pets.

Let's instead put the taboo on _trading_ birds, first. That's the biggest problem. Many birds are ripped out of the wild and sold, usually illegally. These birds not only develop severe depression, but they're often horrible 'pets' as they were not brought up in captivity.

Lastly, birds brought into captivity often have no idea that a life other than their own exists. They're not 'missing out' on anything they're otherwise aware of. In fact, many owners take their birds out to free-fly quite often.

> If you're such an avid bird enthousiast, why not just stick with feeding the locals?

This isn't really a fair comparison, sorry. It's also not applicable in most places in the world - parrots generally come from a few specific places.


I feel like we identify strongly with each other to large extents. I too have a pet rabbit that I got from a children zoo. He had severe syphilis infection that we got him treated for and honestly he lives on a golden platter. His life is atleast 2 to 3 hours of intensive interaction, be it from either me or my partner. In addition we monitor his droppings very well, as well as providing a vast amount of diverse foods that we researched. I think this rabbit has practicaly everything that he can possible wish for; except for the vast amounts of space that he needs to run. In addition I can't, like you, put this domesticated creature back into the wild, it will perish most certainly. Though, recently we moved houses where we now have a garden he can, for the first time in a couple of years roam freely in, and it is stunning to notice the speed that he can achieve while running. Mind you, the entire house is his "cage", yes he does have a cage for his toilet but that door is always open.

What I learned from this rabbit is that absolute adores the great food and the amount of pets that he gets, but also how frequently alone he is, or how extremely social this creature is. My life carries on after his pets, but he is just stuck there to wait till either of us is back.

I certainly do not underestimate the amount of care that parrot owners provide to their parrot. I think it might be even more than we do for our rabbit. However, I think the parrot, or any other social animal, would be most happy when flying or running around and socializing with his peers. There are simply some things that even the best "owners" are able to provide.

To go into your arguments:

>Because sometimes there isn't a choice. Birds born into captivity do not re-hab well. Rescues (as is mine) are generally not able to live in the wild if they were just 'released', so someone has to take care of them.

I agree, that is the same situation I have with my rabbi. In these instances I'd say that it is what it is, but to let the pool of pets continue to grow would be a bad thing. A law against the procreation of pets would prevent that, albeit very slowly as this might just take couple of decades till most animals in captivity would perish, as you know parrots can grow over 100.

Like you say, the undivided attention we provide to our pets, but can you also provide him a social dynamic environment like he'd have if he'd be in the wild with his peers? Escaping for his life, fighting for a wife, eagerly searching for food throughout the day. None of that I believe as that is nigh impossible to provide as pet owner. Aviary's are even more horrid as they now still not have the space they'd really need. I have yet to come across one where you can't find a plucked bird (from NL).

>Sometimes, yes. Just like all animal conservancy. If we didn't care to give them better lives than what they had before, then we'd just put them all down wouldn't we? That's what PETA wants, anyway.

I am rather cynical about most animal conservancy programs, as they'd barrely ever get put back in nature and seem most often a front for growing zoos. But for all that do, I think that's great and acceptable, to certain extent.

>Lastly, birds brought into captivity often have no idea that a life other than their own exists. They're not 'missing out' on anything they're otherwise aware of. In fact, many owners take their birds out to free-fly quite often.

I agree for a large part with your arguments here, but not entirely on the not knowing of missing out. Most animals have natural tendencies to express and just do. Some are known, but most are not. Thus I think it's presumptuous to say that a bird doesn't know what it misses

>This isn't really a fair comparison, sorry. It's also not applicable in most places in the world - parrots generally come from a few specific places.

I think it is: Why do people introduce animals in surroundings that do not belong there? If you love your parrot so much, you'd provide him with the best he can possible get, which more than not is whatever surrounding that they're used to. E.g. no polar bears in the desert, and a parrot in a surround that is comparably hot / cold.

Why not stick with authentic, natural originations? I fell in love with magpies and crows and keep them as guards of my rabbit, through some feeding processes. It is truly amazing to see the interaction between the rabbit, and the magpies. I can definitely recommend you to read into magpies. They're possible even more interesting than parrots. Just fall in love with whatever you have around you. Nature is amazing enough as is, and the most boring and simple critters will definitely keep suprising you. You don't need a cage around it. Besides, don't you find observing the natural behaviour even more interesting?


Would this not be true of basically all animals? Why birds and not cats?

(I have neither, I’m genuinely asking, not playing “gotcha”)


Mostly due to the saying of people "Free as a bird", but also due to the topic of the paper. Though I dont think there should be a difference. I think that no pet should be kept if it requires a leash, cage or any other form of freedom deprivation. Domesticated dogs can be an exception, but in general a pet should choose to be with you because he likes you and doesn't want to go and should be able to leave whenever it desires too.

I'm glad you make an exception for dogs. I've been attacked by dogs more than once.

Some of these were because it was an ill-treated dog.

Most of the time, however, it is just circumstance. Last weekend, I was jogging on a forest path, rounded a corner and suprised a dog whose owners probably considered it a well-behaved pet-- and the owners looked liked 'responsible members of society' (i.e. not trying to prove they were tough).

The dog was off-leash.

Because both I and the dog were caught off-guard, this immediately turned into an aggressive situation. The dog was threatening to attack me, and the owners had a very hard time getting it to back down-- it wasn't responding to their voice commands, it kept barking and lunging at me.

long story short, from my perspective, any domestic animal weighing above 4kg should always be on a leash when out of the house, as a matter of public safety.


I feel you. I have been attacked once and it truly frightened me. I still think most dogs cant be held as most people are to incompetent to care properly for a dog. So my point of view is more that having those dogs in the first place is perhaps a bad idea.

Many people who have cats (not all, but many) have ample places for their cat to run around in, and some will even let their cats outdoors. I'm fairly certain the proportion of people who let their cats be "Free Range" is much much larger than the people letting their pet birds fly around.

Sadly, outdoor cats are so horrifically bad for the ecosystem where I live (Australia), that any owner who allows it is irresponsible in my opinion.

Thankfully, the local government for far north QLD (my state) is now looking into banning outdoor off-leash cats the same way they do dogs, for exactly this reason. They're too destructive here unfortunately :(


While I agree with your overall point (don't keep birds in cages), it's worth mentioning that the quality of life of wild animals is generally awful, with constant bouts of starvation, running for your life from predators and diseases. "Nature" is beautiful, but a harsh mistress, let's avoid romanticizing it.

Nature is brutal in every single way, I agree. But the freedom it provides is also compatibel with humans loving animals; they can take care of them without the deprivation of freedom. I don't intend to romanticize nature's freedom, but I intend to point out the conflicting point of view a lot of people seem to have.

> Is it better to provide a golden cage than to roam freely?

Yes, of course it is. That is why a lot of people are nostalgic for their childhood, even though legally and in practice children are slaves to their parents. They have agency only insofar as their parents allow it.


Look at those pictures. Shame on all who are involved in non-human research. These beings belong in the rain forest, not a plastic box inside a laboratory!

Imagine that if you'd have so much funding that you'd be able to cover a km2 in a forest with camera's and microphones, some remote controlled tools and enough food to experiment with. I think one could've made some kind of improvised tool that drops nuts when you handle a coin or something else. The only thing you then have to do is watch for a couple of interactions where one bird hands the other bird a bottle cap to exchange.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=LJG3282QU4g

Just extend the above experiment with such tracking and I'd think you can reach the same conclusion as this article had, but then with farrrr more comfortable ethics?




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