Parrots are capable of understanding and acting on the balance of probabilities

Parrots are capable of understanding and acting on the balance of probabilities to predict future events 'just like humans', a new study claims. 

Researchers from the University of Auckland in New Zealand worked with a kea parrot and found she could combine data and predict uncertain future events.

The grasp of statistics was thought to be unique to great ape species, such as humans, gorillas and orangutans but this research suggests that isn't the case.

The discovery revealed that as well as being able to talk, the birds outperform monkeys and human children in basic maths.

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Researchers from the University of Auckland in New Zealand worked with a Kea parrot and found she could combine data and predict uncertain future events

Researchers from the University of Auckland in New Zealand worked with a Kea parrot and found she could combine data and predict uncertain future events

The study mirrored previous trials in primates and human babies, using the same tests on the parrot - the Kea performed better than the babies

The study mirrored previous trials in primates and human babies, using the same tests on the parrot - the Kea performed better than the babies

Tests on the Kea, a parrot species from New Zealand, showed they work out odds to choose which hand a token is in - in order to get a food reward.

Researchers found the parrots combine all the available data including where it is picked from - and who is doing it - to make their decision.

'They can predict uncertain future events by filling in the gaps from incomplete information,' said lead author Dr Amalia Bastos.

The study mirrored previous trials in primates and human babies and using the same tests on the parrot they found the Kea performed better than babies and monkeys.

'If you imagine I am placing my hand into a jar with mostly blue sweets and a few yellow and I take something from that jar, but you can't see what is in my hand, you might guess I have taken a blue one,' said Bastos.

The biologist, an Oxford graduate now based at the University of Auckland, said kea can do the same.

In a series of tests their numbers were varied in two transparent jars, as an experimenter offered them one from each, concealed in a closed fist

In a series of tests their numbers were varied in two transparent jars, as an experimenter offered them one from each, concealed in a closed fist

The birds had to opt for a hand by tapping on it. They almost always preferred tokens from jars with a higher frequency of black ones

The birds had to opt for a hand by tapping on it. They almost always preferred tokens from jars with a higher frequency of black ones

Her team trained six parrots - named Blofeld, Bruce, Loki, Neo, Plankton and Taz - to associate black and orange tokens with a food treat, or nothing, respectively.

In a series of tests their numbers were varied in two transparent jars, as an experimenter offered them one from each, concealed in a closed fist.

The birds had to opt for a hand by tapping on it and they almost always preferred tokens from jars with a higher frequency of black ones.

This meant they were more likely to win them the tasty snack.

Even when horizontal barriers were placed inside, altering the proportion of rewarding tokens they could see above, the kea detected the change. 

They selected the jar with the best chance of accessible rewarding tokens.

Dr Bastos said: 'They were choosing the hand based on the probability of it containing a black token, something only seen before in great apes.

'Kea have a complex social structure where many live in a group. They come and go as they please. They need to remember the identities of individuals.'

Kea also preferred those from an experimenter who had previously demonstrated a 'bias' towards offering a higher number of black tokens.

'We were very surprised to find kea can use social cues, even from humans, to make these judgements,' said Bastos.

'Kea were looking at the biased experimenter understanding they had a preference for a particular type of token, and then selecting this person even when both experimenters had the same populations of tokens.'

This is another ability that was thought to have been unique to great apes.

'Therefore, just like infants and the great apes, kea made statistical inferences using relative rather than absolute quantities,' Dr Bastos said.

Previously only humans and other primates have been found to be capable of true statistical inference. The kea is a particularly intelligent parrot

Previously only humans and other primates have been found to be capable of true statistical inference. The kea is a particularly intelligent parrot

It is usually olive-green with a brilliant orange under its wings. It is the only alpine parrot in the world and eats an omnivorous diet

It is usually olive-green

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