‘Parrots who talk know what they’re saying if they are taught appropriately,’ Pepperberg says. […] A bird trained to identify favorite foods knows exactly what they mean when they ask for them. For example, Waldo, a 21-year-old African Grey Parrot who has been part of the band Hatebeak for 12 years (what started as a joke has become a successful venture), likes snacking on bananas and crackers. As drummer Blake Harrison told Vice, ‘We got him dehydrated banana chips, and he pieced it together and called them ‘banana crackers’ on his own. It’s a little creepy.’

Ashley P. Taylor, “Why Do Parrots Talk?”, Audubon interviewed Dr. Irene Pepperberg for an article on parrot-human communication. Read the rest here.

Photo: Jeff Topping for The New York Times/Redux

The Great Silence by Ted Chiang

(This is my favorite short story:)


The humans use Arecibo to look for extraterrestrial intelligence. Their desire to make a connection is so strong that they’ve created an ear capable of hearing across the universe.

But I and my fellow parrots are right here. Why aren’t they interested in listening to our voices?

We’re a non-human species capable of communicating with them. Aren’t we exactly what humans are looking for?


The universe is so vast that intelligent life must surely have arisen many times. The universe is also so old that even one technological species would have had time to expand and fill the galaxy. Yet there is no sign of life anywhere except on Earth. Humans call this the Fermi paradox.

One proposed solution to the Fermi paradox is that intelligent species actively try to conceal their presence, to avoid being targeted by hostile invaders.

Speaking as a member of a species that has been driven nearly to extinction by humans, I can attest that this is a wise strategy.

It makes sense to remain quiet and avoid attracting attention.

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The Alex Foundation Dictionary

Ever wonder what it’s like to communicate with a parrot like Alex? Some labels we use with Griffin and Athena are the same as the English words, but a few are quite different!


A request for preening



This label was coined by Alex, who seemed to think that an almond in the shell looked like a cork but tasted like a cashew, or “nut.”



This label was coined by Alex and is thought to be a mix of banana and cherry, two fruits he already knew.

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Not Just Parroting Back: Alex the Parrot Knew His Numbers

Alex, an African grey parrot who died 5 years ago and was known for his ability to use English words, also understood a great deal about numbers. In a new study in this month’s Cognition, scientists show that Alex correctly inferred the relationship between cardinal and ordinal numbers, an ability that has not previously been found in any species other than humans. After learning the cardinal numbers—or exact values—of one to six, Alex was taught the ordinal values (the position of a number in a list) of seven and eight—that is, he learned that six is less than seven, and seven is less than eight. He was never taught the cardinal values of seven and eight—but when tested on this, he passed with flying colors, apparently inferring, for instance, that the sound “seven” meant six plus one. In the video above of one of these experiments, comparative psychologist Irene Pepperberg of Harvard University asks Alex to pick out the set of colored blocks that equal the number seven. Play the video to hear his answer.


Alex (1976-2007) was an African grey parrot and the subject of a thirty-year (1977-2007) experiment by animal psychologist Irene Pepperberg. Alex’s last words to Pepperberg were: “You be good, see you tomorrow. I love you." These were the same words that he would say every night when Pepperberg left the lab.(via)

“You be good, see you tomorrow. I love you.”

Alex, an African Grey parrot who showed that the cognitive and communicative abilities of parrots are far more extensive than originally thought. Alex learned over 100 words and was able to count and differentiate objects by color, material, and other characteristics, as well as a concept of “zero.” His last words were the same words he spoke every night. Alex died unexpectedly at the age of 31, found dead in his cage the next morning.

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How Was Your Week: Episode 134
“Eat a Carb”: Dr. Irene Pepperberg and Emily Wick

This week’s episode of HWYW delves deep into the science of animal behavior, and it should awe and inspire. DR. IRENE PEPPERBERG, author of Alex & Me and the subject of EMILY WICK’s new documentary, Life With Alex, joins us to chat about her late, great colleague, Alex the African Grey Parrot. Dr. Pepperberg has more wisdom to impart about animal intelligence than any past guest (SORRY ANDY KINDLER!) and we were thrilled to talk to her about the obstacles she faced starting out as a female scientist in the late 1960s, how Alex the Parrot would be a dick when Dr. Pepperberg went away on vacation, and how the parrot’s language center in its brain rivals that of the chimpanzee’s.

Plus: a plea to update so it sets apart Chris Spooner from Dee Dee Ramone, some ideas about Melissa Leo’s unique Emmy outfit, how a perm can change a life, and what specific incarnation of Jesus Christ Jimmy Jazz the cat would be, if he were that particular messiah.