Auditory Enrichment for Parrots

Brief provided by Reinhard Gupfinger.

While parrots are known for their complex cognitive and communicative abilities, they need enrichment and attention in captivity or they can become distressed. Behavioral disorders like feather plucking is a common symptom. Parrots are along with others the most intelligent birds and have become popular pets due to their ability to mimic human speech and sounds. Some parrot species show specific auditory skills such as “entrainment”. Spontaneous entrainment in animals is unusual and involves the ability to align their movements to a musical beat. This ability has been found in grey parrots and cockatoos and has thus disproved the claim that entrainment to music is unique to humans. Building on this, providing appropriated auditory enrichment could provide new opportunities for improving the quality of life for parrots living in captivity.

Recent research in the field of cognitive biology has focused on the role of animals listening to human music as a concept of enrichment. Since most of the music is selected by humans, this can lead to anthropomorphic biases. Therefore, the music should be attuned to the animals’ auditory skills. In addition, it has been found that animals prefer sounds and musical arrangements that are biologically relevant for them.

Design a playful musical instrument for parrots, which is based on traditional design metaphors such as string or percussion instruments. Consider the particular physical interaction patterns of grey parrots, which are mostly performed with the parrot beak. Design a collaborative instrument, to stimulate the birds’ interest in discovering things together, since grey parrots usually live in long-term couple relationships. What kind of sound should the instrument produce and discuss if the sound could be biological relevant to the parrots?


Concept development

Reinhard talked us through the parrot brief and then teams had 25 minutes to brainstorm concepts (pomodoro). Everyone took part and later in the morning, we were debriefed by Reinhard, and given some extra information.



Larry and Shogo present their interactive parrot perch concept. The model is a rough prototype demonstrating how perches might be attached and where sensors are located.