Why Do Parrot Parents Name Their Kids?

It may sound like squawk or tweet to you, but careful now – that's a proper name!

Well, not a person's name, but the name of a wild parrot.

Turns out, little baby wild parrots learn their names from their parents. For the first time, researchers have determined that parrots aren't only fantastic at mimicking human language, they also are capable of complex and impressive communications in nature.

The study showed that even before little nestlings could chirp, squawk or tweet, adults would address each individual with a unique specific sound of their own. Just like humans, birds have extremely large brains for their bodies and it seems as though this specific communication is another commonality.

Karl Berg, a Cornell University doctoral student, led the team in Venezuela whose findings offer the first evidence that parrots learn their unique signature calls from their parents and that vocal signaling in wild parrots is a socially acquired learned skill rather than a genetic trait.

In order to distinguish that the individual contact calls between adult parrots and chicks was in fact socially learned and not genetic, scientists switched the eggs in nine of the 17 nests so that half of the parrots were raising nestlings that weren't theirs.

Researchers attached hidden video cameras (video below) to monitor green-rumped parrots (Forpus passerinus) and made weekly recordings for several months between 2007 and 2008. The parrots were chosen from a group of wild parrots that have been studied by scientists for the last 24 years using rigged nesting tubes made out of PVC pipes.

So, what else are they really saying?

"The theory is these birds are deciding where the food is, 'Do we want to go 3km North-Northwest?' They are sort of arguing or discussing," Berg said. "'Do we want to go to that field, or are there a bunch of falcons there? Should we go to another field?'

"You could imagine there might be disagreements," he added.

Berg first became interested in parrots from a conservationist point of view. He wanted to learn more about the parrots he's always wanted to protect.

Berg has been at the Venezuelan parrot site for parts of four years, or six months every year for eight years. A small army of scientists, including Berg, brave tropical mosquitos, anacondas, and caimans to go out every single day into the tropical savannah jungle to watch these birds in action.

As you might imagine, scientists can get pretty close to these birds.

"So, now when we go out into the jungle we see a bird we can identify the band with a telescope and know, 'that’s Johnny, and he's the great grandson of Arthur and married to Louanne,'" Berg explained.

"They aren't sitting on my shoulder as I'm on my laptop," he added, "but they let us get pretty close."

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