Is our world one that is full of laughter and joy? When we look into the eyes of the creatures around us, even ones as distantly related to us as birds, we can often feel there are emotions hidden beneath the surface. But is this intuition correct?

Meet New Zealand’s alpine parrot, the kea.

Photo of kea parrot. © Amalia Bastos Photography, All right reserved.

They are the only bird in the world that appears to laugh. Kea produce a warble call when they play. Upon hearing another individual’s call, kea also engage in play, which may involve interacting with other birds, manipulating objects, and aerial acrobatics. This had led to the suggestion that the kea warble call might be a form of laughter.

However, we don’t currently know whether the warble call is truly analogous to human laughter. Do kea feel happiness when they laugh? Are the social effects of laughter the same for kea as they are in humans?

Photo of kea parrot. © Ximena Nelson. All right reserved.

Our team of researchers is interested in finding out. In order to do this, we will look into how kea react to the warble call in different situations and compare their responses to those of humans hearing laughter.

We are searching for six signatures, or markers, of human laughter in the kea, to find out just how similar birds are to humans when it comes to their emotions.

Our research is funded by a Templeton World Charity Foundation grant on Diverse Intelligences, and a Brian-Mason Scientific & Technical Trust grant.