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People form enduring emotional bonds with other animal species, such as dogs, cats, and horses. For the most part, these are domesticated animals, with one notable exception: Many people form close and supportive relationships with parrots, even though these amusing and curious birds remain thoroughly wild creatures. What enables this unique group of wild animals to form social bonds with people, and what does this mean for their survival?
In Thinking Like a Parrot, Alan Bond and Judy Diamond look beyond much of the standard work on captive parrots to the mischievous, inquisitive, and astonishingly vocal parrots of the wild. Focusing on the psychology and ecology of wild parrots, Bond and Diamond document their distinctive social behaviour, sophisticated cognition, and extraordinary vocal abilities. Also included are short vignettes – field notes of the natural history and behaviour of both rare and widely distributed species, from the neotropical crimson-fronted parakeet to New Zealand's flightless, ground-dwelling kākāpō. This composite approach makes clear that the behaviour of captive parrots is grounded in the birds' wild ecology and evolution, revealing that parrots' ability to bond with people is an evolutionary accident, a byproduct of the intense sociality and flexible behaviour that characterize their lives.
Despite their adaptability and intelligence, however, nearly all large parrot species are rare, threatened, or endangered. To successfully manage and restore these wild populations, Bond and Diamond argue, we must develop a fuller understanding of their biology, of the complex set of ecological and behavioural traits that has led to their vulnerability. Spanning the global distribution of parrot species, Thinking Like a Parrot is rich with surprising insights into parrot intelligence, flexibility, and – even in the face of threats – resilience.
Part One: Origins
1. Rainbow Lorikeet
3. Brain and Sensory Systems
Part Two: Behavior
4. Sulphur-Crested Cockatoo
5. Expression and Response
Part Three: Sociality
7. Crimson-Fronted Parakeet
9. Vocal Communication
Part Four: Cognition
11. Cognition in the Wild
Part Five: Disruption
13. Rose-Ringed Parakeet
Part Six: Conservation
16. Contraction and Collapse
Part Seven: Parrots and People
17. Captain Flint Meets Polynesia
Appendix A. Common and Scientific Names of Parrot Species Mentioned in the Text
Appendix B. Analysis Methods for Brain Volume and Body Mass in Parrots and Corvids
Appendix C. Comparisons of Form and Frequency of Play Behavior in Keas, Kākās, and Kākāpōs
Appendix D. Kea Social Network Analysis
Appendix E. Kea Vocalizations
Appendix F. Kākā Vocalizations and Dialect Methods
Appendix G. Conservation Status of Parrot Species Mentioned in the Text
Alan Bond is professor emeritus of biological sciences at the University of Nebraska and Judy Diamond is professor and curator at the University of Nebraska State Museum. Together they have studied the social behaviour, cognition, and vocalizations of wild parrots for more than three decades. They are coauthors of Kea, Bird of Paradox: The Evolution and Behavior of a New Zealand Parrot and Concealing Coloration in Animals.
"There have been numerous books written about these remarkably brainy but especially endangered birds. This is one of the very best. [...] This is both a beautifully written survey that anyone can appreciate and a serious reference work."
– Jonathan Elphick, BBC Wildlife 37(10), September 2019
"The minds of wild parrots brim with intelligence, and their lives with clever, flexible, and exuberant behavior. This fascinating book takes us into their universe to discover not just how these birds live, but how they think, 'talk,' and feel. You'll be amazed by the surprises – the slang of kakas, the playful gangs of galahs, the ingenious adaptability of rose-ringed parakeets."
– Jennifer Ackerman, author of The Genius of Birds
"Parrots have unusually large brains, surprisingly flexible learning and intelligence, amazing mimetic abilities, and rich, complicated social interactions. What evolutionary pressures have shaped these traits? In this entertaining and well-written book, Bond and Diamond offer a vivid portrait of the lives of parrots, keas, and macaws. It is a scientifically up-to-date tour de force, easily accessible to scientists and non-scientists alike, that elegantly summarizes the birds' history, biology, and spread throughout the world – not to mention their complex relations with humans, who have for centuries selectively bred them for their wits and personalities."
– Robert M. Seyfarth, University of Pennsylvania, coauthor of The Social Origins of Language and Baboon Metaphysics: The Evolution of a Social Mind
"Although parrots have shared our hearts and hearths for hundreds of years, our understanding of their natural behavior has remained shrouded in mystery – until now. As parrots are notoriously difficult to study in the wild, the soap opera of their existence has remained unclear. In Thinking like a Parrot, Bond and Diamond have looked behind the curtain to reveal that parrots possess minds and behavior as complex and intriguing as any creatures in the animal kingdom. This is an exceptional guide for anyone who wants to discover more about how this stunning group of birds think about the world. As we continue to destroy the diverse habitats that wild parrots call home, it's become apparent that we need to learn all we can about them before it's too late. Parrots are so much more than the chatty, funny trickster companions that we know and love. This is the perfect guide to learning their secrets."
– Nathan J. Emery, Queen Mary University of London, author of Bird Brain: An Exploration of Avian Intelligence
"There is indeed something special about parrots. Bond and Diamond have captured beautifully the essence of both the extreme complexity and sophistication of the wild birds and our complex relationship with them. Thinking Like a Parrot nails the most difficult aspect by managing to explain, without getting bogged down, the high levels of cognition and intelligence of parrots, especially in context of their complex social lives. Totally original and engagingly written."
– Robert Heinsohn, Australian National University