From Budgies to Scarlet Macaws, parrots must be provided with interesting environments if they are to remain healthy, and their owners sane (bored parrots may scream, pluck their feathers, etc.). Indeed, behavioral enrichment (basically, “keeping animals busy”) is now mandated for parrots by most reputable zoos. Thousands of useful ideas and products help to serve this cause, but few have gone as far as a parrot computer game first conceived at New York’s Binghamton University.
A New Frontier in Pet Enrichment
Researchers studying animal communication came up with the idea for a game-based tool that might be used to explore parrot learning abilities. The idea won first prize in a contest sponsored by a company that creates prototypes for inventors, and is now a reality.
The program is quite ambitious. Several types of games with varying levels of difficulty are featured – parrots can make objects move, cause a song to be played, draw, participate in word games and move a ball so that it hits a food target. The computer responds only to bird vocalizations, not to pecking or biting (no computer would last very long if parrots had to physically manipulate it!).
Depending upon the game in use, the computer generates audio and/or visual responses, and a wired-in robot wired dispenses treats when the parrot behaves appropriately.
Potential Risks and Benefits
One reviewer expressed fears that parrots might become addicted to the games (or to training for the Parrot World Computer Game Championships!), and that the computer might alienate birds from their owners, much as sometimes happens among people. But the concept is far-sighted experiment, and I believe worthy of further investigation. If all is arranged just so, it might even be possible for caged parrots to “work on the computer” while their owners are away.
I’ve observed Chimpanzees, Blue Jays, Crows and other creatures learn by watching others…certainly most parrots are up to the task of learning from a computer (far more so than I, as my long-suffering co-workers at ThatPetPlace will attest!).
For the Non-Computer-Savvy Parrot or Owner
Don’t worry that your bird will “lag behind the others” if you’re not quite ready to provide it with a computer and robot…please see the article below for other ideas.
Video: a parrot’s typical first reaction to computer games.
Original research paper describing the new computer game.