One Good Yawn Deserves Another

Empathy is something that is of current interest among those who are interested in animal behavior, whether it’s people or parrots. One of the ways that is used to assess empathy is to watch for one subject to parrot another.

The latest excitement to hit the streets is Miller et al’s study on yawning parrots parroting each other (1). In this case the flock of captive budgerigars were video taped in the morning, after lunch, and in the evening.

Now it turns out that budgerigars sitting in jail without a lot to do yawn a lot. They also do a lot of stretching of a wing or a leg. The paper mentions that sometimes they stretch both legs, but didn’t make it clear if that was at the same time or sequentially.

Because they yawn and stretch at any time during the day, the impulse can’t be controlled by their circadian clocks telling them it’s time for bed. However, if one budgie yawns, its neighbors quickly follow suit and we see the yawn and stretch flowing through the flock like a Mexican wave.

Yawning contagion seems to be widespread among primates (human or not), rodentia and now parrots. Tortoises, though, are not too bothered if you yawn or not (2). They quietly go about their business chomping on leaves while those around them are yawning or stretching, not caring if they are being polite or not.

  1. M.L. Miller, A.C. Gallup, A.R. Vogel, S.H. Vicario & A.B. Clark, Behavioural Processes, 89, 264, (2012).

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