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A budgerigar with its beak open.

Warning: this picture might make you yawn!
Credit: ©iStock.com/vitalsss

Sometimes watching someone yawn makes you want to yawn yourself. And sometimes, watching a yawning video or even just reading the word yawn will do it. Feel like yawning now? It seems a very human reflex, but it turns out that budgies do it too.

Psychologists from the United States ran two yawning experiments on budgerigars. In the first, they videotaped two budgies in adjacent cages. The budgies usually didn’t yawn much, but when one budgie yawned, the other often yawned soon after.

In the second experiment, they put a budgie in front of a TV and played videos of budgies yawning. When the real budgie saw a budgie yawning on video, they often yawned in response.

What does this mean? Experiments have shown that people that score high on empathy tests (meaning they can understand what other people are feeling) are more likely to catch a yawn from someone else. This suggests contagious yawning is a social behaviour. But other studies have found no connection between yawning and empathy. More research is needed to solve this mystery.

Budgerigars are social birds. Wild budgies live in the drier areas of Australia, usually in flocks of about 100. These groups sometimes come together to make huge swarms, up to 60 000 birds strong. Perhaps when living in such crowded groups, a little bit of empathy (and a lot of yawning) makes life easier.

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