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Counting Parrot

October 31, 2005

Birdbrain is a common insult. But one parrot is proving that birds may be more intelligent than we suppose.

Transcript

BOB HIRSHON (host):
What’s none got to do with it? I’m Bob Hirshon and this is Science Update.

Alex is a 28-year-old African grey parrot. Brandeis University comparative psychologist Irene Pepperberg has taught him to identify colors, shapes, objects, and numbers.

IRENE PEPPERBERG (Brandeis University):
Alex, how many green wool?

Alex: "One."

IRENE PEPPERBERG:
OK, Good parrot.

HIRSHON:
Now Alex has become the first bird to understand the concept of zero, which is hard even for children. During a training session, he spontaneously used the word "none" to describe the absence of objects on a tray.

IRENE PEPPERBERG:
Now he had understood none in terms of absence of same or different in two objects, but he had never been trained using none for a quantity.

HIRSHON:
Pepperberg says Alex is helping to convince people that even birdbrains are capable of abstract thought. I’m Bob Hirshon, for AAAS, the science society.