a little birdy told me

February 29, 2008


When we’d rather not reveal the source of the slanderous gossip we are whispering into the ear of our co-worker, we might find ourselves using the phrase “a little bird told me.” Yeah, it’s a cute saying and people have been using it for ions, but why? We all know birds can’t talk?

Or can they?

We all know that teaching a parrot to mimic certain words is possible, but are they capable of more?

As I perused the March issue of “National Geographic” I came across an article called “Minds of their Own, Animals are smarter than you think.” In this article, among many fascinating examples, was one about an African gray parrot named Alex. Alex not only spoke, but he spoke his mind, so to speak.

His owner roommate, Irene Pepperberg decided to teach him to reproduce the sound of the English language so she could then ask him questions about how he saw the world. She did this at a time when most scientist thought of animals as automatons, incapable of any thought. Animals were thought to be merely robots programmed to react to stimuli, nothing more.

One of the ways Pepperberg demonstrated Alex’s ability to think was to hold up a green key and a green cup.

She asked Alex, “What’s the same?”

Without hesitation, Alex said “Co-lor.”

She then asked “What’s different.”

“Shape.” Alex squawked.

Alex also had his own name for apples, one of his favorite foods. Because they tasted a bit like banana to him and because they looked a bit like cherries, Alex made up a name for them: ‘ban-erry.”

Y’all really have to read this article.

Amazing what you can do with a brain the size of a shelled walnut.