Monday, September 10, 2007

Alex the Counting Parrot (1976 - 2007)

I was unfamiliar with Alex and his talents which included the ability to add, distinguish colors and shapes, and may have been the only critter other than man to grasp the concept of zero. Noam Chomsky had his doubts about Alex's purported abilities which means my blog-buddy Chap will soon be adopting an African Grey.

You can listen to an NPR interview with Alex's former owner/trainer Dr. Irene Pepperberg or watch the video below.

According to Pepperberg who is a faculty member at Brandeis University, Alex was able to identify 50 different objects, seven colors and shapes, and quantities of up to six. Alex also understood the concept of bigger and smaller and same and different. Pepperberg says they were in the midst of learning basic mathematics skills.

"This was a very amazing creature," she says.

Alex also had the emotional level of a 2-year-old child, Pepperberg says. After repeating some learning trials dozens of times, Alex would become tired and throw objects off the trays with his beak. When visiting the veterinarian, Alex would go back in his cage and slam the door.

How would Alex say goodbye? Pepperberg says that she imagines it would sound something like what Alex would say to her every night before going to bed: "You be good. I love you. See you tomorrow."

Amazing critter.