A very endearing German study recently found that parrots are capable of selfless acts of kindness. When placed in neighboring cages, researchers found, the birds will pass each other tokens that can be exchanged for food, expecting nothing in return. “This was really surprising that they did this so spontaneously and so readily,” one biologist told NPR, sounding rightfully impressed.
So, yes, the study strongly indicated that parrots are among the very few species capable of generosity. It also basically proved my own, very scientific theory, which I have been fine-tuning for a while: that parrots are easily — easily — a top contender for Best Animal.
I realize that such a definitive statement might provoke some people, and that’s okay; I understand and forgive them. But here are a few pieces of information to consider: Like humans, wild parrots name their chicks, and baby parrots quickly memorize their names so they can identify themselves to others. And though parrots have long been considered some of the few animals that mate for life, some species have recently started experimenting with polyamory, hell yeah. Also, for reasons that are unclear to me, some parrots seem to enjoy riding bikes, which is objectively very cool.
But what makes parrots so estimable, aside from their vibrant plumage and openness to non-monogamy, is a trait closely related to their newfound generosity: their desire for intimacy and companionship. Like humans, parrots are very social creatures who form very intense attachments to their flocks and mates. (While this makes them wonderful, it also means humans should stop ripping them from their flocks and placing them in captivity.)
This desire for connection is so strong and compelling that they’ve even been used to help with veterans suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder, as documented in an incredibly touching New York Times story from 2016. “[Parrots] have the ability to connect, to feel this closeness with another being, another species,” Lorin Lindner, the psychologist who founded a now-closed sanctuary where parrots and vets took care of one another, told the Times.
In one touching example of interspecies friendship, a traumatized former Coast Guard helicopter rescue swimmer named Lilly Love formed a close bond with an abandoned caique parrot named Cashew, whose wings had been clipped by a former owner, rendering her flightless. Every day, Cashew would walk back and forth across Love’s outstretched arms, occasionally stopping for kisses, which put Love at ease. In return, Love would go through an exercise to help Cashew relearn how to fly — all in an attempt, to quote the Times, to “restore what was taken from her.”
‘‘They have a real survivor’s mentality,’’ Love told the Times, reportedly while cradling Cashew. ‘‘I see the trauma, the mutual trauma that I suffered and that these birds have suffered, and my heart just wants to go out and nurture and feed and take care of them, and doing that helps me deal with my trauma.”
And we says dogs are a man’s best friend? Please.