Not just parroting her speech
Tuesday January 22nd 2019, 11:00 pm
Filed under: Friends,Life

My late friend RobinM told me of a book she’d loved and thought I would, too.

I finally did. “Alex and Me,” by Irene Pepperberg, a researcher who has studied the intellectual capabilities of birds, most notably one named Alex.

To quote from page 68: “My proposal was simple: I said I wanted to replicate the linguistic and cognitive skills that had previously been achieved in chimps in a Gray parrot, an animal with a brain the size of a shelled walnut, but one that could talk.”

Grays flock in the wild and are highly social, and the typical animal research of the day was to isolate the animal when you weren’t running experiments. Her take was that socializing was the point of communication–and that previous failures in research could be attributed to a failure to meet that part of the parrots’ needs. They need interaction. They need stimulation. They demand attention.

So she does it her way, and boy does she succeed. Like the time she was trying to demonstrate to a visitor that he could count small numbers. She wanted him to say two, but he kept switching between one and four. She knew full well he could do this. Without giving away the answer she tried again.

One four!


He gave her that insouciant look she knew so well when he was going to do things his way right now, thankyouverymuch. He liked being the boss of the lab. It wasn’t till she told him he needed a timeout and started to take him out of the room and away from this brand new interesting person to people-watch that he pleaded, Two! Two two two two…! to their great amusement. He was a character.

I’d say skip the first chapter, which gets a bit maudlin re his death when the reader hasn’t even met him yet, and get on with the story. But I found the story was well worth the read. Alex kept me laughing.

And hey, Constance? Your dad’s name’s in that book. Who knew?! You get my copy.

2 Comments so far
Leave a comment

My son bought this book for me years ago knowing how much I would enjoy reading it. We had a Quaker parrot for 11 years who was just as entertaining as Alex. If I put on my coat Elmo would imitate the sound of a zipper zipping and say bye bye. When he said, “Whatcha doin’?” in a curious tone, my response would be answered with an enthusiastic “Good boy!” I discovered that among the top ten speaking breeds of parrots, Alex’s breed being number one, my Elmo was somewhere in there with the best of them. He certainly was a funny bird and kept our family laughing with his “conversations “. I really miss him.

Comment by Jody 01.23.19 @ 6:04 am

Sounds interesting! I have requested it from the library.

Comment by ccr in MA 01.23.19 @ 9:23 am

Leave a comment
Line and paragraph breaks automatic, e-mail address never displayed, HTML allowed: <a href="" title=""> <abbr title=""> <acronym title=""> <b> <blockquote cite=""> <cite> <code> <del datetime=""> <em> <i> <q cite=""> <s> <strike> <strong>