Going Gambling? Take a Parrot!

What are the odds?  Scientific researchers have just discovered that parrots understand the laws of probability and, like humans, can make predictions based on those probabilities.

More specifically, the researchers discovered that the kea, a species of large parrot found in New Zealand, can make inferences and predict events based on previous knowledge or experience.  The parrots even performed better than chimps in some experiments.

parrot token Girl


Study overview

The researchers conducted a series of experiments designed to test understanding of probability in the kea. They trained six parrots to associate the color black with a treat and the color orange with no reward.

Colored tokens were put in two transparent jars and the birds then saw a researcher take tokens from each jar and hold one in each hand, without being able to see which color was in which hand.

In almost every instance, the kea chose the hand that appeared most likely to carry a black token.

The researchers then placed a transparent barrier between the jars, making the tokens slightly less accessible.  The kea then selected the jar with the highest probability of black tokens.

In the final experiment, a researcher created a “bias” scenario by only offering black tokens. When offered tokens from two experimenters, the parrots showed preference for the researcher who only gave black tokens.

Parrot chooses token



The researchers said it is the first time this complex cognitive ability has been demonstrated in an animal outside of the great apes.


Journal Reference: Bastos, A.P. & Taylor, A.H. Kea show three signatures of domain-general statistical inference, Nature Communication Journal, 11, 828 (2020).  DOI: https://doi.org/10.1038/s41467-020-14695-1  source