CLOSE
iStock
iStock

Yawning Is Contagious for Some Parakeets, Too

iStock
iStock

Pet parakeets mimic more than just speech. Budgerigars, or budgies, a parakeet species native to Australia, also mirror each other’s yawns. The budgie is the first non-mammal discovered to be susceptible to contagious yawning. 

Lots of animals yawn, which scientists speculate could serve as a way to increase oxygen to the brain and perhaps cool the brain down. However, contagious yawning—a social phenomenon that may be related to empathy—has only been observed in four mammal species. Humans, chimps, dogs, and rats all begin to yawn if they witness another animal do it. Now a team of psychologists from the State University of New York at Oneonta report in the journal Animal Cognition that parakeets can make each other yawn, too.  

Image Credit: Andrew Gallup

First, the researchers set up pairs of birds next to each other in cages. Some birds could see each other, but other pairs were blocked off. Sometimes the pairs were birds who lived in a flock together, while on other days the birds were strangers. When the birds could see each other, they were more likely to yawn within a five-minute span of each other, suggesting that yawning is, in fact, a contagious behavior for budgies. Unlike dogs and chimps, the budgies didn’t seem to be biased toward yawning in response to their friends. They were equally likely to catch a yawn from a strange bird as from one in their own flock. 

In the second test, budgies were shown videos of other budgies; previous studies had shown the birds would respond to video as they would to a live bird. One four-and-a-half-minute video showed a supercut of a yawning bird, while the control video showed clips of the budgie doing other activities. When the video showed a budgie yawning, the test birds were significantly more likely to yawn themselves. 

Yawning in response to sensing or thinking about the action in others may represent a primitive form of empathy,” the researchers write, concluding that budgies might provide a good model to study empathetic processing. 

[h/t: Eurekalert]

Banner image from Gallup et. al, Animal Cognition (2015)

nextArticle.image_alt|e
iStock
arrow
Animals
Pigeons Are Secretly Brilliant Birds That Understand Space and Time, Study Finds
iStock
iStock

Of all the birds in the world, the pigeon draws the most ire. Despite their reputation as brainless “rats with wings,” though, they’re actually pretty brilliant (and beautiful) animals. A new study adds more evidence that the family of birds known as pigeons are some of the smartest birds around, as Quartz alerts us.

In addition to being able to distinguish English vocabulary from nonsense words, spot cancer, and tell a Monet from a Picasso, pigeons can understand abstract concepts like space and time, according to the new study published in Current Biology. Their brains just do it in a slightly different way than humans’ do.

Researchers at the University of Iowa set up an experiment where they showed pigeons a computer screen featuring a static horizontal line. The birds were supposed to evaluate the length of the line (either 6 centimeters or 24 centimeters) or the amount of time they saw it (either 2 or 8 seconds). The birds perceived "the longer lines to have longer duration, and lines longer in duration to also be longer in length," according to a press release. This suggests that the concepts are processed in the same region of the brain—as they are in the brains of humans and other primates.

But that abstract thinking doesn’t occur in the same way in bird brains as it does in ours. In humans, perceiving space and time is linked to a region of the brain called the parietal cortex, which the pigeon brains lack entirely. So their brains have to have some other way of processing the concepts.

The study didn’t determine how, exactly, pigeons achieve this cognitive feat, but it’s clear that some other aspect of the central nervous system must be controlling it. That also opens up the possibility that other non-mammal animals can perceive space and time, too, expanding how we think of other animals’ cognitive capabilities.

[h/t Quartz]

nextArticle.image_alt|e
iStock
arrow
Animals
The Queen's Racing Pigeons Are in Danger, Due to an Increase in Peregrine Falcons
iStock
iStock

Queen Elizabeth is famous for her love of corgis and horses, but her pet pigeons don't get as much press. The monarch owns nearly 200 racing pigeons, which she houses in a luxury loft at her country estate, Sandringham House, in Norfolk, England. But thanks to a recent boom in the region’s peregrine falcon population, the Queen’s swift birds may no longer be able to safely soar around the countryside, according to The Telegraph.

Once endangered, recent conservation efforts have boosted the peregrine falcon’s numbers. In certain parts of England, like Norfolk and the city of Salisbury in Wiltshire, the creatures can even find shelter inside boxes installed at local churches and cathedrals, which are designed to protect potential eggs.

There’s just one problem: Peregrine falcons are birds of prey, and local pigeon racers claim these nesting nooks are located along racing routes. Due to this unfortunate coincidence, some pigeons are failing to return to their owners.

Pigeon racing enthusiasts are upset, but Richard Salt of Salisbury Cathedral says it's simply a case of nature taking its course. "It's all just part of the natural process,” Salt told The Telegraph. "The peregrines came here on their own account—we didn't put a sign out saying 'room for peregrines to let.' Obviously we feel quite sorry for the pigeons, but the peregrines would be there anyway."

In the meantime, the Queen might want to keep a close eye on her birds (or hire someone who will), or consider taking advantage of Sandringham House's vast open spaces for a little indoor fly-time.

[h/t The Telegraph]

SECTIONS

arrow
LIVE SMARTER
More from mental floss studios