All pet lovers claim their cats and dogs talk to them but how many of our four-footed friends can name 100 objects and understand the concept of categories, size and absence. Alex could.
As documented in her book *Alex & Me*, Irene Pepperberg’s 30-year research project with the brainy African grey parrot is amazing. By adding numbers, differentiating shapes, colours and textures Alex may have come closer to exhibiting human intelligence than any other animal on earth. He was also a rascal, who enjoyed dancing and needling his handler.
If Pepperberg happened to greet another parrot in the laboratory first, Alex would sulk all day, refuse to cooperate and become very demanding.
One such day, Alex demanded a nut and Pepperberg ignored him. Even after decades of interplay with the parrot, she was stunned to hear him say: “Want a nut. Nnn-uh-tuh.” Like, do I have to spell this out for you, Science Lady?
*The Guardian* described Alex as “smarter than the average U.S. president.” An unfortunate and wholly unnecessary word – “average.”
Winston Churchill’s parrot was not nearly as smart as Alex, but was twice as surly. Although disputed by the prime minister’s relatives, Peter Oram claims he inherited the 104-year-old bird from his father-in-law, who first sold the parrot to Churchill and then took him back when the British legend died in 1965. Old and cranky, “Charlie” is the resident celebrity at Oram’s garden centre in Surrey, England. Claiming Churchill taught him the words, Oram says that when Charlie is startled out of his sleep, he immediately screams: “Screw Hitler! Screw the Nazis!” Whether or not “Charlie” once belonged to him, Churchill would be heartily amused.
Any bird that speaks like a person is a natural source of fanciful anecdotes. Like the preacher purchasing a parrot at the pet shop.
“Doesn’t scream or curse, does he?”
“Not at all. He’s a pious parrot. Pull that string attached to his right leg and he recites the Lord’s prayer. Pull that string attached to his left leg and he retells the story of Job.”
“What happens if I pull both strings at once?”
“I fall of my perch you @#%8*/!” replied the parrot.
No pet has spawned more jokes than the talking parrot. Like the one about the frustrated magician working on a cruise ship in the Caribbean. With a different audience each night, the magician was able to do the same tricks repeatedly. One problem: the captain’s parrot flew around the room during the shows and understanding how the magician worked, heckled him.
“Look, it’s not the same hat. Not the same hat.”
“Look, he is hiding the flowers under the table. Under the table.”
“All the cards are the Ace of Spades!”
The magician wanted to strangle the bird but he couldn’t. It was the captain’s parrot. At the end of a show, just as the magician was going to make himself disappear in a puff of smoke, the ship hit an iceberg and went to the bottom in seconds. There were only two survivors - the magician and the parrot sharing a piece of a lifeboat. They stared at each other with hate, but did not utter a word. This went on for a day and another and another. After a week, just as the magician was about to lapse into unconsciousness, the parrot nodded at him and said: “OK, I give up. What did you do with the boat?”