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Selfless African grey parrots get by with a little help from friends

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Acting selflessly to help others in need was long thought to be a trait confined to mammals, in particular humans and great apes.

But a new study has found that African grey parrots volunteer assistance to both their good friends and mere acquaintances — even when there is no expectation of personal gain.

The paper, published in the journal Current Biology on Thursday, advances our knowledge of the evolution of cooperation and social intelligence, co-author Auguste von Bayern of the Max Planck Institute for Ornithology in Starnberg, Germany told AFP.

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Both parrots and corvids (like crows and ravens) are renowned for their extraordinary problem solving skills, and are sometimes called “feathered apes.”

Alex, the famous Harvard-based African grey parrot that died in 2007, developed a vocabulary of over 100 words, could identify colors and quantify objects up to the number six, among many other accomplishments.

But despite their impressive intelligence, earlier experiments have failed to show crows helping other crows — leading von Bayern and first author Desiree Brucks of ETH Zurich to wonder whether the same was true of parrots.

Working at the Loro Parque research station in Spain, they placed pairs of grey parrots and blue-headed macaws in boxes alongside each other with an exchange hole between the two, and a hole facing a human experimenter that was either kept open or closed.

Both parrot species quickly learned that they could exchange tokens with the experimenter for a nut treat — but only the grey parrots helped their neighbors when their own opportunity for gain was taken away.

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In the first round, seven out of eight grey parrots were willing to transfer tokens in their possession to their neighbors so that their friends could feast when they could not.

The fact they did so without knowing they would later be tested in the other role showed that those giving were not expecting the favor to be returned, said von Bayern.

Significantly, the grey parrots appeared to understand the nature of the task, as opposed to acting out of playfulness. When they saw the other parrot had an opportunity for exchange, they’d pass a token over — but otherwise, they would not.

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– Lending a wing –

And, like humans, the grey parrots appeared to favor their friends, sharing significantly more tokens with birds they had previously closely associated with, though they still gave some to acquaintances.

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The experimenters did not test whether the effect would occur with perfect strangers.

It is not fully clear why the grey parrots acted “prosocially” while the macaws did not, but the researchers suggest it may be linked to how the two species organize themselves in the wild.

African greys live in huge flocks of up to 1,200 individuals, Brucks told AFP, and this may require greater social cognitive abilities than macaws that live in much smaller groups of 10 to 30 individuals.

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The team would now like to investigate how widespread cooperation is among the world’s 393 parrot species and examine what evolutionary pressures led to it.

They’d also like to learn how exactly the birds empathize with each other and whether the level of help given is proportionate to the need of the recipient — for example, will a parrot who just had a meal receive the same level of assistance as one which is hungry?

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Fox & Friends floats impeachment conspiracy theory about GAO findings of Trump crimes against Ukraine

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"Fox & Friends" assured viewers they could ignore a federal watchdog agency's findings that President Donald Trump broke the law by withholding Ukraine aid.

The nonpartisan the Government Accountability Office found the White House Office of Management and Budget violated the law by freezing $400 million in congressionally approved military aid, but the Fox News hosts suggested the agency was only trying to hurt the president.

"Do you think it's just a coincidence that that news would drop exactly the same day the (impeachment) trial started?" said co-host Steve Doocy.

Co-hosts Pete Hegseth and Ainsley Earhardt agreed, and accepted administration denials at face value.

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GOP senators are questioning allegiance to Trump as impeachment becomes a reality: Morning Joe panel

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According to members of MSNBC's "Morning Joe" panel, Donald Trump may see more defections by previously supportive Republican senators now that the impeachment of the president has become a reality and their conduct will be scrutinized by voters back home.

Speaking with columnist David Ignatius, host Joe Scarborough noted that multiple Republican senators -- including several who are retiring -- are going soft on defending the president and may be inclined to allowing multiple witnesses who could damage the president.

"David Ignatius, you know, we've known Sen. Pat Roberts (R-KS) and Sen. Lamar Alexander (R-TN) both of us, for a long time. and as they coming to the end of their careers," Scarborough began. "I would think [Senate Majority Leader] Mitch McConnell would be concerned that these gentlemen would vote their conscience and not just blindly follow Donald Trump and would vote to have a fair, open hearing and trial and get this new evidence that's coming in, that's come in since the House impeached."

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Iran’s supreme leader says Trump is a ‘clown’ who will betray Iranians

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Iran’s supreme leader said President Donald Trump is a “clown” who only pretends to support the Iranian people but will “push a poisonous dagger” into their backs, as he struck a defiant tone in his first Friday sermon in Tehran in eight years.

Ayatollah Ali Khamenei said the mass funerals for Iran’s top general, who was killed in a US airstrike earlier this month, show that the Iranian people support the Islamic Republic despite its recent trials. He said the “cowardly” killing of Soleimani had taken out the most effective commander in the battle against the Islamic State group.

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