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More about Alex

Alex, the African Grey ParrotYou may be starting to wonder “Doesn’t this guy ever get around to Shelties?” since this is my second blog entry on Alex, the African Grey parrot. But there’s a common thread in the topic of Shelties and the topic of Alex: intelligence. One of the reasons I love Shelties so much is that they are so incredibly intelligent and so fantastically interactive with their human people. And that’s why I’m fascinated with Alex…

On the Edge, I found an article named “That Damn Bird“, which contains both some details of what Alex’ trainers are doing and some marvelous anecdotes about Alex, including this one:

Thus we are trying to get him to sound out refrigerator letters, the same way one would train children on phonics. We were doing demos at the Media Lab for our corporate sponsors; we had a very small amount of time scheduled and the visitors wanted to see Alex work. So we put a number of differently colored letters on the tray that we use, put the tray in front of Alex, and asked, “Alex, what sound is blue?” He answers, “Ssss.” It was an “s”, so we say “Good birdie” and he replies, “Want a nut.”

Well, I don’t want him sitting there using our limited amount of time to eat a nut, so I tell him to wait, and I ask, “What sound is green?” Alex answers, “Ssshh.” He’s right, it’s “sh,” and we go through the routine again: “Good parrot.” “Want a nut.” “Alex, wait. What sound is orange?” “ch.” “Good bird!” “Want a nut.” We’re going on and on and Alex is clearly getting more and more frustrated. He finally gets very slitty-eyed and he looks at me and states, “Want a nut. Nnn, uh, tuh.”

Not only could you imagine him thinking, “Hey, stupid, do I have to spell it for you?” but the point was that he had leaped over where we were and had begun sounding out the letters of the words for us. This was in a sense his way of saying to us, “I know where you’re headed! Let’s get on with it,” which gave us the feeling that we were on the right track with what we were doing.

I don’t know about you, but I am in constant awe at the intelligence and emotional capacity of the “dumb animals” (including “bird brains”!) all around us. Most people have no clue what they’re missing.

On this day..

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