Wednesday, September 12, 2007

Obit: Alex the Parrot

Alex the Parrot died. Alex was the subject of a long study on avian intelligence at Brandeis. He was thirty or thirty-one, which isn't all that old for African Gray Parrots. They can live to be fifty.

For a long time it was assumed that parrots just 'parroted' and that they would say things that they learned would get a reaction without really understanding what they were saying. Work with Alex showed that parrots have some limited understanding of language. Alex had intellectual skills--he could count and do some relatively simple math. He could do 'which if these things is different.' He was sometimes cranky. He wasn't always thrilled with science because repetition bored him. He'd turn his back on people because he didn't want to work. The articles say that Alex had the emotional level of a human two year old, but of course that's not true. Alex's fellow African Grays survive in the wild, something beyond the emotional skills of any two year old. But Alex had the social interactions of a two year old. He pouted, he preened. When he worked with two other parrots in the lab, his perch had to be higher. He was a complete and utter character.

It's not like I ever saw him except in video. But I was sad to hear of his death.


Blogger Karen Sandstrom said...

I, too, was sad to hear of his passing. And thanks for posting that video. I've come to think that the notable thing about animal intelligence is the inability of humans to crack the code. We don't understand it. We don't have the vocabulary. And we conclude, in our foolishness, that the lack is with them.

September 12, 2007 8:29 PM  
Blogger Amy said...

Agree with Karen. I love Alex's voice. He says "shower" with a New York accent. Thanks for posting this Maureen.

September 23, 2007 10:41 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

^^ nice blog!! ^@^

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March 24, 2009 2:42 AM  

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