Parrots Name Their Kids, And The Parrot Family Refers To Each Other By Name, Just Like We Do

A new book by science author Virginia Morell details how parrots name one another, and how those "names" — consistent sounding series of chirps and peeps — are learned by other nearby parrots, with young offspring all learning the distinct names of their parents and siblings. The book is Animal Wise, and as detailed on the NPR Blog Tuesday, its scope goes beyond just dishing about the familial lives of parrots. Morell also details research into the ability of horses to recognize one another — as unique, specific individuals.

The latter point was demonstrated in a simple, clever experiment at a stable, where two horses who knew each other from experience, Silver and Pepsi, resided. Researchers walked by with Pepsi in tow, and as she passed Silver he looked up at her briefly before returning to chomping his hay.

Pepsi was then taken behind a barrier — out of sight, as it turns out, but not out of mind. The researchers then played sounds from a recorder hidden on Pepsi's side of the barrier, while the mare herself stayed silent. First, they played a recording of Pepsi's whinny, the distinct sound of her snorting, which prompted Silver to look up for a moment before losing interest.

But when a different sound was played, of a different horse's whinny, the result was strikingly different — Silver would look up at the barrier, staring for a good while, seemingly confused by the reversal of expectation. He'd just seen a horse he knew vanish from view, but then heard a different horse altogether. The findings weren't limited to just one horse, either, as Morrell notes:

The scientists gave this test to several horses, and always elicited the same surprised response when the horse heard someone different from the one it had seen. ... It shows the horse had an expectation. It expected to hear the whinny of the individual that had just walked by, but instead heard someone else. It means that a horse has pictures in its mind of a horse it knows.
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According to scientist Karl Berg, the means to discovering the naming comprehensions of the parrot didn't require such duplicity, but surveillance instead. Working on a Venezuelan ranch, where he fashioned several parrot nests with cameras monitoring them, Berg captured hours upon hours of footage of the birds, and began to detect a familiarity in the chirps.

Most people say, 'Well, all those calls are just noise,' I think they're having conversations.
LabofOrnithology on YouTube

As detailed in the video, narrated by Cornell University's Mark Dantzker, Berg determined that in the weeks following the birth of a new parrot, the bird began using a durable, familiar sequence of peeps to identify themselves, and each other.

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In other words, horses appear to possess that dynamic spark of recognition, and parrots may give each other unique names. And that's not all — dolphins, already known to be some of the highest-intelligence creatures in nature, seem to have the same ability. Who knows what animal codes we'll crack next? Onward, science!