Alex the Parrot

The only advantage we humans have over other animals is our intelligence, our intellect has given us the privilege of thought, which is what has caused us to become the dominant species on the planet. But are other animals capable of thought? Perhaps, in this article we'll be exploring the case of one particularly (presumably) intelligent parrot, and his name is Alex.

It's fair to say that it is a well known fact that parrots can talk, but it is also a well known fact that this is most assuredly not a cause of high intellect in parrots. When your average parrot greets you, wishes you a good day or says good night at 5 pm, it's only fair to make the obvious assumption that it doesn't have a clue what it is saying, it's simply memorizing and afterwards mimicking something it's heard countless times before, much like Larvelle Jones from the Police Academy movies.

The reason parrots (African grey parrots in particular) have the abilitiy to mimick sounds isn't necessarily because they're intelligent, although they may very well be, it's simply because they want to fit in. It's no surprise that wild flocks of parrots don't talk like humans, however they do develop distinct local dialects, meaning that they learn to mimick the other parrots of their group at a young age - some parrot pairs even ''sing'' unique duets. The reason they evolved this unique ability is, as reasearch suggests, to tell members of their own flock apart from members of an enemy group. This all makes sense, the capability of mimicking sounds isn't necessarily a sign of intelligence, however, that isn't the same as saying that it can't be used as a way to demonstrate intelligence..

The research conducted by the trainer of Alex the parrot, Dr. Irene Pepperberg, suggests that Alex was capable of recognizing numbers up to six, differentiate seven colors, identify 50 different shapes and also understand the concept of qualities such as big, small, identical and different.

What really suggests that Alex was actually intelligent, and not just another mimick, is mainly the fact that he was capable of generalizing objects instead of simply associating certain words with specific object, which is a capability we tend to believe that only we posess. However, Alex the parrot, when shown a variety of different keys with different sizes and colors, was still capable of recognizing them as the same object, whereas a dog would've looked at two different balls, a small one and a large one, and presumably recognize them as different objects. You can see Alex in action in the video below.

Sadly Alex died in 2007 at the age of 31, which, considering that the World Parrot Trust lists a longevity of 50-60 years (in captivity) for the species, is a relatively short lifetime. Dr. Irene has attempted to find a successor to Alex, (she was also training other parrots at the time) however none have been as succesful. Allegedly the last words Alex the parrot spoke were ''You be good, see you tomorrow. I love you.''