Alex, an African Grey parrot, was able to count to six, identify colors and express his own frustration with repetitive scientific trials.
For 30 years, he helped scientists at Brandeis University understand the avian brain. His advanced language and recognition skills revolutionized their research.
Last Thursday, this gifted parrot died. It is uncertain what the cause of death was. The average life span of an African Grey parrot is 50 years.
“It’s devastating to lose an individual you’ve worked with pretty much every day for 30 years. Someone was working with him 8 to 12 hours every day of his life,” said scientist Irene Pepperberg.
Pepperberg purchased Alex from a pet store in 1973. Soon afterwards, he learned the English words to identify 50 different objects, seven colors, and five shapes.
Alex would also instruct two other parrots at the lab to “talk better” when they mumbled. It’s not certain if he was mimicking researchers.
Researchers said Alex still was working towards his full cognitive potential. He was able to take sounds from words he knew and combine them to say new words. Last month, he said the word “seven” for the first time.
Emotionally, Alex was similar to that of a 2-year-old. Intellectually, he had the brain of an average 5-year-old.
Scientists were also using what they had learned about Alex’s brain to research new ways of helping disabled children to communicate.
The last time that Pepperberg saw Alex, they went through their normal goodnight routine. She would always say: “You be good, I love you. I’ll see you tomorrow.”
Alex always responded, “You’ll be in tomorrow.”
You will be dearly missed, Alex.