Parrots are innately social creatures. In captivity, where they usually don’t have a herd to interact with, this can present some real challenges in keeping them happy and healthy. But recent research suggests that technology may be able to help them meet more of their social needs. A led by researchers from University of Glasgow and Northeastern University compared parrots’ responses when given the opportunity to video chat with other birds via Meta’s Messenger versus watching pre-recorded videos. And they seem to have a preference for real-time conversations.

The research builds on findings from a series of small studies over the past few years, including one in which the team trained pet parrots to make video calls to each other (with human assistance) and another in which they were taught to play tablet games. In the latter, nine parrot owners were given tablets to set up for their pets, which were then monitored over a six-month period. During that time, the parrots – who were introduced to each other initially via video chat – were able to engage in conversations with each other lasting up to three hours in a total of 12 sessions. Half of these sessions involved pre-recorded videos, while the other half were live video chats on Messenger.

Their caregivers, who recorded the sessions, reported that the birds seemed more engaged during the live interactions. They initiated more calls in these scenarios and spent more time on average interacting with the birds on the other side.

In each session, the parrots were allowed to make up to two calls, and the researchers found that those chatting on Messenger reached that limit 46 percent of the time, compared to almost half when they watched pre-recorded videos . Overall, they spent a total of 561 minutes video chatting on Messenger compared to just 142 minutes watching the pre-recorded videos.

“The advent of ‘liveness’ does seem to have changed the parrots’ engagement with their screens.” said Dr. Iliena Hirski-Douglas, but noting that further study will be needed before firm conclusions can be drawn. “Their behavior while interacting with another live bird often reflected the behavior they would exhibit with other parrots in real life, which was not the case in the pre-recorded sessions.” However, caregivers mostly reported that the live and pre-recorded calls seemed have had a positive impact on birds.

“The Internet has great potential to enable animals to interact with each other in new ways, but the systems we build to help them do so must be designed around their specific needs and physical and mental abilities,” said Dr. r. Hirsky-Douglas. “Research like this can help lay the foundation for a truly animal-centric Internet.”