In the old days, parrots were
just thought to be skillful mimics and where not given credit for the ability to
learn and understand our language. To add further insult, the
term Bird Brain was often used as a derogatory term towards individuals with, let's say,
diminished brain capacity.
Birds do have a much smaller
cerebral cortex, which is the main area of intelligence for most animals.
However, it is now known that they use an entirely different part of their brain,
the hypertriatum, as their intelligence center.
Modern research has shown that
parrots have an amazing brain and they are capable of much more than mere mimicry
when it comes to language. Parrots also have been recognized for
their memory of places and individuals as well as their ability to think,
reason, solve problems, count, grasp abstract concepts, learn from
example and to use and fashion tools.
To view an amazing
segment about Alex shown on PBS
In this video you will be able to see Alex, Dr. Pepperberg and actor Alan Alda demonstrate the model-rival method and
get a look at a prototype "web browser" for parrots.
Studies continue to
demonstrate that parrots have a higher level of intelligence than they have been
given credit for. Most notably, Dr. Irene Pepperberg's work with African Grey
parrots has revealed that parrots have the ability to:
understand and appropriately respond to
think and reason;
grasp the concepts of numbers, presence
and absence, bigger and smaller and same and different;
distinguish colors, shapes and materials;
combine words in a meaningful fashion to
form sentences; and,
invent syntax (Alex named an almond in
the shell a "cork nut" when he hadn't seen one before).
So, the next time someone calls you a Bird
Brain, say "thanks for the compliment" !
Want to Learn More About
Alex? Check out this great book !
Irene M. Pepperberg
On September 6, 2007, an
African Grey parrot named Alex died prematurely at age thirty-one. His last
words to his owner, Irene Pepperberg, were "You be good. I love you."
What would normally be a
quiet, very private event was, in Alex's case, headline news. Over the thirty
years they had worked together, Alex and Irene had become famous—two pioneers
who opened an unprecedented window into the hidden yet vast world of animal
minds. Alex's brain was the size of a shelled walnut, and when Irene and Alex
first met, birds were not believed to possess any potential for language,
consciousness, or anything remotely comparable to human intelligence. Yet, over
the years, Alex proved many things. He could add. He could sound out words. He
understood concepts like bigger, smaller, more, fewer, and none. He was capable
of thought and intention. Together, Alex and Irene uncovered a startling
reality: We live in a world populated by thinking, conscious creatures.
The fame that resulted was
extraordinary. Yet there was a side to their relationship that never made the
papers. They were emotionally connected to one another. They shared a deep bond
far beyond science. Alex missed Irene when she was away. He was jealous when she
paid attention to other parrots, or even people. He liked to show her who was
boss. He loved to dance. He sometimes became bored by the repetition of his
tests, and played jokes on her. Sometimes they sniped at each other. Yet nearly
every day, they each said, "I love you."
Alex and Irene stayed
together through thick and thin despite sneers from experts, extraordinary
financial sacrifices, and a nomadic existence from one university to another.
The story of their thirty-year adventure is equally a landmark of scientific
achievement and of an unforgettable human-animal bond.