Alex the Parrot

Check out my newest book recommendation on the Psychology page of the Bookshelf! It’s a New York Times bestseller and a great read–I finished it within a day.

Alex & Me by Irene M. Pepperberg is the true story of “how a scientist and a parrot discovered a hidden world of animal intelligence–and formed a deep bond in the process” (book cover). It’s the amazing, heartwarming, and often comical story of Alex, an African Grey Parrot who challenged the definition of “bird brain,” and his caretaker, Dr. Irene Pepperberg of Brandeis University. More than three decades ago, Dr. Pepperberg entered a pet store to purchase a parrot that she could train in an ambitious–and, at the time, underappreciated–research study investigating language acquisition in birds. She left the pet store with Alex–a little bird with a big personality that would change the way scientists think about animal cognition.

Alex’s accomplishments over his lifespan exceeded even Dr. Pepperberg’s expectations. Not only did he learn object labels, the names of colors, and various types of material (e.g. paper, wood), he was also able to count and understand concepts such as “same vs. different.” What’s more, Alex demonstrated creativity–the ability to combine labels and concepts in novel ways, in the absence of any training–previously thought impossible for a creature with a brain the size of a walnut.

Alex was the most intelligent (not to mention head-strong, bossy, and wry) one-pound ball of feathers that the world has ever seen. This book is a must-read, and if you aren’t convinced yet, watch the clip below. It’s a tribute to Alex that aired on Good Morning America after his premature death at the age of 31:

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=sYk-wE18BTo 

Though Alex is gone, Irene M. Pepperberg’s study of avian cognition is ongoing. To learn more about her work and the ways in which you can help fuel this groundbreaking research, visit The Alex Foundation website: www.thealexfoundation.com

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1 Comment (+add yours?)

  1. Karla Deacon
    Dec 21, 2009 @ 13:21:13

    The research that Alex and Irene Pepperberg did is truly amazing. He was a very special parrot and it is so sad that he is gone before his time. African Gray Parrots are very wonderful and loving companions with a keen intelligence but they do require a big commitment from their owners!

    Reply

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Elephants never forget...but sometimes they do go missing.

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