We’re always delighted when we find evidence of extreme intelligence in the “others,” such as when we learn that crows crack nuts open by using passing cars and gorillas dismantle snares to thwart poachers.
While primate and corvid intelligence is well known, what may be a little less apparent is the intellectual power of parrots. African grey parrots, in fact, have cognitive abilities comparable to that of a five-year-old human: some are able to associate words with their meanings and form simple sentences. Animal psychologist Dr. Irene Pepperberg of Harvard University has been studying parrots for 40 years. She has extensively worked with Alex, an African grey parrot. With a vocabulary of about 100 words, Alex could label objects and colors and had a rudimentary understanding of numerical concepts. Dr. Pepperberg’s experiments concluded that Alex was not just mimicking language by rote, but that he actually understood the concepts and even created a few words of his own.
Now, Michigan prosecutors are trying to determine whether a parrot can be a witness in a murder trial. A Michigan man was shot and killed in his home last year. Weeks later, his African grey parrot apparently imitated what may have been an argument before the shooting.
Watch the two videos below. In the first, you’ll meet Alex to get a sense of a grey parrot’s astounding abilities. Then view the second video, and ask yourself: should the bird get its day in court?
If the parrot does become a witness, it will be a first. Just imagine what the future could hold: perhaps someday, animals might not only be witnesses but jurors, weighing us by our actions.
Here’s to finding your true places and natural habitats,