Parakeets can catch yawns from their neighbors


A yawn can spread from parakeet to parakeet, even when the two aren't nuzzling noses.

Eric Kilby/Flickr (CC BY-SA 2.0)

Humans and dogs aren’t the only ones that can pass along yawns. They appear to be contagious among parakeets, too.

Videos taken in 2012 of budgie flocks suggested that yawns and stretches spread among the birds. A new study now shows that when one Melopsittacus undulatus budgerigar, or budgie, yawns another in the next cage follows suit relatively soon after. Watching a video of a budgie yawning also trigged the behavior, offering evidence that it is contagious in the birds, researchers report May 27 in Animal Cognition.

Budgies are the first nonmammal species to exhibit contagious yawning in experiments and the fifth identified to date, joining chimpanzees, domesticated dogs, a type of Sprague–Dawley rat and humans.

“Yawning in response to sensing or thinking about the action in others may represent a primitive form of empathy,” the researchers note. As a result, they say, budgies could be a good test animal to get at the roots of our ability to share much more than yawns.

Ashley Yeager is the associate news editor at Science News. She has worked at The Scientist, the Simons Foundation, Duke University and the W.M. Keck Observatory, and was the web producer for Science News from 2013 to 2015. She has a bachelor’s degree in journalism from the University of Tennessee, Knoxville, and a master’s degree in science writing from MIT.

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