African grey parrots are among the smartest AND kindest in the animal kingdom

Humans and a few other mammals stand out among animals by showing acts of kindness and altruism towards others in need, but a new study suggests that some birds may also make it to the list of selfless animals.

Researchers from the Max Planck Institute have found that the African grey parrots voluntarily and spontaneously help others to obtain food, without any obvious benefits to themselves.

In their study, the researchers worked not only with African grey parrots but also with blue-headed macaws. As parrots are generally considered intelligent birds, both parrot species easily figured out the game of trading tokens with an experimenter for a nut to eat – but the African grey parrots went a step beyond in giving a token to a neighbor that did not have one.

The parrots provided help without gaining any immediate benefits and seemingly without expecting any reciprocation in return. And what’s especially remarkable is that the African grey parrots seemed to understand when their peers needed help. They would only pass a token over when they could see the other parrot had an opportunity to get a reward.

How did these parrots become so helpful? The researchers suggest that the behavior is borne from their social organization in the wild. But many questions remain; the authors now wonder how common is this across the 393 different parrot species and what factors may have led to its evolution? Answering these questions could potentially help scientists understand more about the evolution of cooperation among animals.

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