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3/9/09

Not A "Bird Brain": Alex The African Grey Parrot

When Irene Pepperberg said goodnight to Alex, her famous African Grey Parrot, he replied "You be good, see you tomorrow. I love you." Next morning, she found him dead in his cage. He was 31, and apparently died of atherosclerosis. (African Greys can live to 50.)

Although parrots are known to be smart, Alex seemed brilliant, and stirred controversy because of his feats. When he was tired of being tested, he would say “Wanna go back." He wanted the comfort of his cage. If Dr. Pepperberg's face registered annoyance, Alex said, “I’m sorry.” If he said “Wanna banana”, but was offered a nut instead, he stared in silence, asked for the banana again, or took the nut and threw it at the researcher.

Here is a two minute video of Alex with Dr. Pepperberg (or by clicking the scenes at the video end you can watch the entire sequence):



Some say that Alex was just another case of Clever Hans or Nim Chimpsky. They point out that Alex is not a mammal, not a primate, and has a brain the size of a walnut. Dr. Pepperberg might say that some day homo sapiens, man the wise, will be knocked off the pedestal he has placed himself on.

Here are some links: New York Times Obit. First chapter of Pepperberg's book after his death, Alex and Me. An interview in Edge titled That Damn Bird. Did Alex think? See this, taken from The New York Times.

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