New Zealand Parrots Have Contagious ‘Laughter’

. Credit: Raoul Schwing
. Credit: Raoul Schwing

New Zealand parrots are playing with each other through certain cries, according to researcher Raoul Schwing from the University of Veterinary Medicine in Vienna in the journal “Current Biology”.

Keas, with a special sound, succeeds in animating her peers. So far, such “emotionally contagious” sounds had been known only to mammals, wrote Schwing and his colleagues.

“Keas not only have amazing cognitive abilities, such as dealing with objects, but also a complex gameplay,” Schwing reported. “At the same time, they emit special sounds.” In an experiment, the keen explorers of Keas played for five minutes of other keas that they had previously recorded. Some of the birds started to play spontaneously.

Other calls from the parrots and the South Island robin served as controls. However, no kea was made to play by these sounds. “This shows that the wilderness has a similar contagious effect to the laughter in our people,” said Schwing. “If animals can laugh, we are not so different from them.”

The Keas – named after their call “Kea Kea” – are about 45 centimeters large. The parrots with their olive-colored feather dress are considered not only as game-loving, but also as smart and curious. According to the animal protection organization Kea Conservation Trust, there are only about 5,000 copies left on New Zealand’s South Island.