Parrots choose to work together

The first parrot waits for the second before attempting the task

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African grey parrots let their personalities shine through when it comes to problem-solving, a study has found.

Scientists developed a series of tasks for the birds, which revealed that they understood how to co-operate.

A team studying the birds at a research centre in Paris found that some birds preferred to work alone, while others liked to work together.

The findings are published in the journal Animal Cognition.

The problem-solving test the researchers designed was a miniaturised version of one that was originally developed to test chimpanzees' ability to work in teams.

Start Quote

They have different personalities and they display flexible strategies”

End Quote Dalila Bovet Behavioural scientist

It was recently scaled up to test co-operation in elephants.

The apparatus required two parrots to pull on a string at the same time in order to pull a tray towards them and obtain a food reward.

"The birds were able to coordinate," explained Dr Dalila Bovet from Paris West University Nanterre La Défense, who led the study.

"They understood that they needed a partner to solve the task, and they waited for him."

Grasping this concept of need for teamwork elevates African greys to a "cognitive elite" that includes chimpanzees, elephants and the birds' impressively clever cousins, the corvids - a group that includes crows and magpies.

Parrots know how to co-operate

But these birds had an even more impressive ability; they were able to collaborate, with each bird contributing to the task in a different way.

"We used another task in which one individual had to climb on a perch in order to release the tray that was pulled by the second bird," said Dr Bovet.

The parrots were able to carry out these different but complementary actions, although they did have trouble exchanging roles.

Solo or duo?
African grey parrots, Leo and Zoe (Image: Dalia Bovet) Leo and Zoe were reared together

The three birds involved in this study also adjusted their strategies according to their personalities and their relationships with each other.

"We carried out one test where we gave them the choice between two apparatus - one that yielded a reward when handled alone and another baited with twice as much food per bird but which required co-operation to obtain it," explained Dr Bovet.

In this choice test, each of the birds behaved differently.

"One of them, Shango, behaved in a rather individualistic way, always choosing the 'solo' apparatus," Dr Bovet recalled.

The female, Zoe, only chose the 'duo' task if a male parrot called Leo was present. "They were reared together and liked each other," said Dr Bovet.

But Zoe refused to work with Shango.

"She seemed to prefer not to cooperate with him, even if it meant less food, whereas Leo always preferred to work with a partner," said the researcher.

"This shows that these parrots are not just conditioned to do something to obtain food.

"They have different personalities and they display flexible strategies."

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