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The Amazing Bird Brain

 

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.          

African Grey wrestles with favorite toy

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 click here. 

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 human language;

  • 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" !

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Photograph by Donna Dicksson   

Related Articles/Info

The Emotional Needs of Parrots
Do Parrots Have Emotions?
The Importance of Social Interaction
A Parrot's Need for Mental Stimulation
Why Independence is Important
Why and How Birds Talk
Teaching Your Bird to Talk
Tool Use in Parrots

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Want to Learn More About Alex?   Check out this great book !

Alex & Me

by Irene M. Pepperberg

Alex & Me By Irene Pepperberg

Book Description:

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.

 

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