How Smart Is Your Bird?

By Diane Burroughs

Alex the Parrot knew colors, size, matter and more

Alex the African Grey Parrot changed the way the world thought about parrot intelligence

Did you know that Parrots have been found to be as smart as a 4 to 5 year old child?  Your bird is probably that smart.

Pioneering research from Dr. Irene Pepperberg at Brandeis University and researchers at the Universities of Vienna and Oxford have shown astounding evidence about the intelligence of birds, specifically parrots. Dr Pepperberg has researched parrots, Alex, Griffin and Wart to demonstrate that parrots are indeed thinking, problem-solving creatures that are capable of

  • Planning
  • Problem solving
  • Comprehending questions and giving reliable  answers

Dr. Irene Peperberg , a world famous animal behaviorist who holds faculty positions at Harvard University and Brandeis University   notes that parrots ”understand things like categories of color, material and shape, number concepts, and concepts of bigger and smaller, concepts of similarity and difference, and absence; things we once thought that a bird could not comprehend, these parrots are showing us it’s possible,” says Pepperberg in an article published by the National Science Foundation.  In the move Life with Alex : A Memoir,  Dr. Irene Pepperberg and her team at  Harvard and Brandeis Universities shows the world how Alex the African Grey Parrot has learned colors, shapes, textures as well as counting.

Another fascinating example of parrot intelligence is “Pepper” the African Grey Parrot that is learning to drive a parrot sized Bird Buggy!  Pepper, an intelligent parrot with separation anxiety had beset his owner, Andrew Gray, with ear splitting brash  screeches any time he was left alone.  Andrew, an engineering graduate student at the University of Florida responded to his parrots needs by developing the Bird Buggy.  This little gadget is a joystick operated bird buggy that Pepper can navigate about the house in search of his Pal.

Wild birds are also known to be intelligent.  Researchers at the University of Vienna and Oxford have conducted trailblazing research on the problem-solving abilities of New Caledonian Crows and Kea’s by presenting birds with an acrylic “puzzle box “ that contains food.  In video footage, these two species show how they use a variety of tools and problem-solving strategies to “forage” for food.  The researchers are publishing two new studies — one in cooperation with members of the Behavioral Ecology Research Group in Oxford — in the scientific journals PLoS ONE and Biology Letters

So, what does this have to do with you?  Just like a young child with nothing to do, your parrot will find a way to stimulate its mind and solve its loneliness, possibly in ways that are problematic.  Under-stimulated parrots tend to engage in attention getting behavior or anxiety related behaviors such as screaming and feather picking.  Parrots quickly learn that negative attention is better than minimal attention and boredom.  One of the fastest ways to encourage problem behaviors in our parrots is to provide attention for attention getting behaviors.  We often do this unwittingly.

Provide mental stimulation  and learn about the intelligence of birds first hand with foraging bird toys, bird puzzles and teaching your birds tricks.  We’ll address foraging bird toys and bird puzzles in this post and bird tricks in a subsequent posts.


Alice Auersperg, Auguste von Bayern, Gyula K. Gajdon, Ludwig Huber, Alex Kacelnik. Flexibility in problem solving and tool use of kea and New Caledonian crows in a Multi Access Box paradigm. PLoS ONE, June 8, 2011 DOI: 10.1371/journal.pone.0020231

Irene Pepperberg Article University of Chattanooga Animal behaviorist Irene Pepperberg to present parrot research posted March 23, 2012.

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About Diane Burroughs

Diane Burroughs, founded in 1998. A bird lover who is owned by African Grey's, a Moluccan, a Parrotlet and a Red-Bellied Parrot, Diane is dedicated to improving the lives of pet birds with vet-approved parrot tested supplies and expert bird care articles.
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