Before I delve into this new development in the avian world, I need to tell you about what happened to me a couple of nights ago. I set out to walk my dog Sarge in a gentle rain. Since I don’t have a thick fur coat I deployed an umbrella. Suddenly there was a big lightning flash followed 4-5 seconds later by some pretty righteous thunder. So I knew that the strike was probably a mile or so away. (We’ll get into that logic some other time.)
Before I could lower my umbrella there was a small lightning flash somewhere behind me accompanied by a pop. At the same time, I felt a small zap in my right ring finger, which happened to be connected to my arm. This is what’s known as “dodging a bullet.” I swear on Nikola Tesla’s headstone that I am not making this up.
But ever since then, out of the corner of my eye, I can see this cascading sheet of green alphanumeric characters raining down a black background. If I try to focus directly on it, the “rain” disappears. I feel like I might have seen that in a movie years ago but I’m not for sure. Very weird.
So. I ran across the following article a few weeks ago and I thought you should know about it. In case you own a parrot: Scientists Taught Pet Parrots to Video Call Each Other—and the Birds Loved It
Here’s the Coles Notes version:
“Domesticated parrots that learned to initiate video chats with other pet parrots had a variety of positive experiences, such as learning new skills, researchers from Northeastern University, the University of Glasgow and MIT report this month in Proceedings of the 2023 CHI Conference on Human Factors in Computing Systems.”
Basically, the parrots in the study quickly learned to make calls and some chose to talk preferentially to one or more other parrots, i.e. they made parrot “friends”, showed each other their toys, cavorted around on camera, bopped in synchrony to the Psy song Gangnam Style and so forth.
Two macaws became very close and even called out to one another “Hi! Come here! Hello!” from their respective screens. That’s a pretty big cognitive leap for a birdbrain. I love my dog, but I think that parrots are way above his pay grade when it comes to intelligence. Some parrots apparently have cognitive skills exceeding those of a human five-year old (or maybe an aging human politician) including gambling, composing bogus blog posts, playing Bridge and passing the classic two-nut, four-cup test. Parrots are also master mimics and can make almost any kind of sound you can imagine.
I’m wondering what other skills the parrots are sharing among themselves on these video calls though.What could go wrong? For example, they could start sharing 1-900 numbers or maybe strike up conversations with Siri and order bigger cages, tasers, pitchblende (aka uranium ore) and so forth. Time will tell I guess.
Anyway, in addition to seeing that scrolling alphanumeric display out of the corner of my eye, now I also seem to have gained the ability to tune in to random cell phone conversations from time to time. Here’s a recent conversation I eavesdropped on:
Jackson the Parrot: Awwwk! Hello? Isabella? Jackson here. Awwwk!
Isabella the Parrot: (makes trilling sounds, Awwwk!) Jackson! Why are you (whistle) hanging upside down (whistle)?
Jackson: I’m (gurgling, clicking, whistling noises) not upside down. (Screeching) Turn your phone around.
Isabella: (makes futuristic beeping sounds) OK. Jackson, are you reading The Jerusalem Post? A guy named Aaron Reich has been writing about all these different asteroids that are passing close to Earth. Like asteroid 2023 JK! It’s the diameter of 18 adult walruses (roar, snort) laid side by side and it’s supposed to pass by Earth on May 21st! (raucous shrieking ensues)
Jackson: I thought 2023 JK was the diameter of 46 Dutch men of average height laid head to toe (Er Is Niks Aan De Hand) or maybe it was the size of a Pembroke Welsh Corgi with the mass of 4 baby elephants (loud trumpeting and ear flapping sounds follow)
Isabella; That is one dense Welsh Corgi (arf, arf, whimper) But what about 2023 CX1? It was the size of two Super Bowl trophies (crunch, oof, grunt)) but luckily it exploded in the atmosphere somewhere over the English Channel.
Jackson: Yeah I think it was sent by aliens (imitates ET: says phone home) to eradicate the ancestral nesting mounds of those (yip, yip) Welsh Corgis.
Isabella: (Snorting) They’re dogs: they don’t nest in mounds. You’re thinking of termites (makes clicking noises that sound like chewing).
Jackson: Actually, I think the Dense Welsh Corgis is a pretty good name for an avant-garde rock band (Isabella then proceeds to churn out a pretty good rendition of Todd Rundgren’s lead guitar solo from Number One Lowest Common Denominator)
Isabella: (now panting heavily) Thanks Jackie-Boy. Now my owner is yelling at me and says I’m making too much noise. I have to literally get off the phone seeing as I’m perched on it.
Jackson: Awwwk. Oh-kayyy. (in a somewhat no-pun-intended-crestfallen tone). Squawk to you later!
In the movie Kindergarten Cop, Joyce (Penelope Ann Miller) said to Arnold Schwarzenegger: “Kindergarten is like the ocean-you don’t want to turn your back on it.”
The same goes for parrots and maybe lightning.