Opinion: ‘Cheep’ shot at bird talk


A few weeks back, I mentioned an app called Smart News that features daily tantalizing headlines accompanied by brief articles. Here are some of their recent postings:

  • 6 Things to NEVER Buy at Costco
  • 4 Dangerous Fast Foods
  • 7 Canned Fruits to NEVER Buy
  • 8 Great Things About Pickles

I only read the pickle one. Wow, they qualify as veggies. Finally, some good food news!

I also subscribe to a magazine called The Week. If you’re young and not familiar with what a magazine is, Google it. If you’re an older senior and don’t know what Google is, look through some of your old magazines. There’s probably an article about it somewhere.

Smart News deals with the big political stories of the day, but it also sprinkles in an assortment of newsy tidbits, like this one: “Birds taught to make video calls.”

That got my immediate attention. I’ve ignored FaceTime calls on my iPhone, assuming they were robo – not robin — calls. I block callers after these attempts to reach me, assuming it’s someone phishing. Maybe some calls were from pelicans, the best phishermen around.

Dr. Ilyena Hirskyj at Glasgow University says she has taught parrots to call each other using an iPad. Domestic parrots (of which there are 28 million globally) usually spend their very long life alone in cages and need some social interaction.Playing solitaire and munching on crackers for 75 years just doesn’t cut it.

Dr. Hirskyj’s subjects were also trained to type out simple messages using a keyboard. This proved painfully slow, since most of the birds were unable to progress past the hunt-and-peck method.

Many of the parrots, when reaching out to other parrots, would preen and display their colors in a mating posture in front of the camera. Florida’s legislature wants to ban such videos. Disney World’s Donald Duck and his nephews are planning a protest.

Adult parrots were thrilled to finally get calls from their kids: “I hadn’t heard a peep out of my son in 50 years,” one excited mama said.

In a related story — and one I am totally making up — researchers in New York City equipped pigeons with miniature iPhones around their necks and taught them to communicate with each other while walking around Central Park. Testing was halted when in one week, 26,000 were killed crossing the street while talking on their cells.

Most birds just want to settle down and have a family. They are using a new app called hatch.com. Chickens are downloading scratch.com.

Having read this silly column, my wife, Mary Ellen, now summons me to the phone whenever she gets a call identified as spam.

“Dick, there’s some chick on the phone for you,” she says.

“How do you know it’s for me?”

“Well, she keeps saying, ‘Cheap, cheap!’”


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