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Asia Minute: New Zealand’s Laughing Parrot

Wikimedia Commons
Wikimedia Commons

On this Aloha Friday, there’s yet another reminder that laughter is good for you. The Mayo Clinic has documented some of the medical benefits of laughter on its website. Studies from the United States to Japan have confirmed that humor can help with overall health and recovery from illness. And this week there was more news about laughter—coming from the animal kingdom in New Zealand. HPR’s Bill Dorman has more in today’s Asia Minute.


A good laugh is healthy, and can be contagious.

Apparently that’s not only true with humans, but also with certain animals.

Take the kea parrot of New Zealand’s South Island—an intelligent and curious bird.  It’s the world’s only alpine parrot, which means it lives above the tree line.  The kea produces a unique sound that researchers describe as a “play call” because it “seems to induce playfulness” in other keas who hear it.

Scientists compare it to laughter—spreading a little happiness.

Raoul Schwing of the University of Auckland told National Geographic that birds hearing this particular sound “spontaneously started to play with the bird next to them.”

Schwing has studied the keas’ behavior very closely and finds their society to be close to utopian in some ways.

The birds mingle together without any pecking orders and are extremely peaceful—sometimes even sharing food.

New Zealanders say the keas are mischievous.  Their nickname is “the clown of the mountains” and a group of them is not even called a flock—it’s a “circus of keas.”

The keas are up for more study and it’s not entirely a laughing matter.  In addition to their charming attributes, the birds are also an endangered species.

Bill Dorman has been the news director at Hawaiʻi Public Radio since 2011.
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