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.


11 Responses to “a little birdy told me”

  1. Jess Says:

    I love this drawing it’s just how I would imagine the phrase in my head. You’ve got it perfectly!

  2. This is true! I have an Amazon Parrot that says “I’m a good boy!” when he hears the crinkle of the Cheetos bag. He also knows the smell of pizza and french fries!

    Really cute illo Linda!

  3. Nancy Lefko Says:

    Your illustrations are great and your posts so informative !! Thanks !! I’m STILL thinking about that octopus’ camoflauge !!!

  4. This is great, I love the pop-eye. By the way, you would like this, it’s something I realized in a stunning moment of clarity a few years ago and still cracks me up. Remember Popeye? Have you ever thought about the fact that his name is Popeye and he has a pop-eye?

    There is a documentary about Irene Pepperberg and her parrots somewhere, I saw it years ago, and it’s SO amazing, definitely worth seeing if you can find it. The best part is Alex’s voice, the way he says things. She holds up a key and asks “what is it?” and the pitch of his voice when he says “ke-ey!” It sounds like he’s saying “it’s a key, of course, you idiot!”

  5. Great Illustration Linda! Wow how interesting to know that a bird can actually come up with his own thoughts in words! That is amazing!!

  6. artseafartsea Says:

    Very interesting and cute birds too. Great sketching as usual.

  7. studio lolo Says:

    I have that issue on my coffee table! I’ve only glanced at it as I mentioned in your octopus post. I can’t wait to find the time to read the entire thing! See your little blue bird here? That’s how I am when someone wants to talk about someone else. I hate it! I just plug my ears and close my eyes and go lalalalalalalalalala. So there 🙂
    And of course I LOVE this illo!

  8. Bobo Says:

    I always think that animals are smarter than us, they understand us quite well, but how many of us do understand them?

    I hate gossip too, the little yellow bird just looks like one. I can tell the two big one have totally different character.

  9. Alexis Says:


    Just because something is seemingly qualitatively different doesn’t make it superior. Once we presumptuous egotistical humans get us through our skull, our lives will be so much richer. Forgive the Sunday snark :-).

  10. gina Says:

    really? wheew… :’} gotta read the articles..

  11. Mad Bluebird Says:

    Realy great illistration there should be on the market

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