The Life Of Alex, Talented Research Parrot


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.

Source: Boston Globe, MSNBC

6 Responses to “The Life Of Alex, Talented Research Parrot”

  1. Lynne says:

    Alex probably died of boredom and frustration. Can you imagine being a lab animal for 30 years?

  2. nora says:

    What a horrible thought about such a bright bird. I hope that Irene Pepperburg showered him with love, although I wonder if he was left on the weekends by himself, when all the Researchers were off of work. Poor Alex probably died wondering why he was left every night by himself in an empty lab 20 years before his time.

  3. kaefamily says:

    8 hours a day doing the same repetitive tasks for 20 years? Too much for a human’s brain let alone a bird’s one.

  4. Suzanne says:

    Could be Alex died of exhaustion; can you imagine working 8 to 12 hours a day for 30 years? What’s with him not going home with Irene each evening?

  5. Tanya says:

    Lynn, do you really think that he was less stimulated than in a cage in someone’s home?

  6. madelynn says:

    I am happy Alex was here on this planet for even though just a short while,, if not for his work and research,, i feel parrots would be treated worse than many already are in our captivity, Alex proved this species and others, {parrots} express pain, emotion, and can reason with cognitive abilities. without Alex ,, none of this info. would have been possible, i hate the thought of animals in labs but dont feel in my heart Alex was never abused,, Alex seemed to enjoy being the Einstein of parrots,, I have a grey , and I know if they dont want to do something they simply wont its not gonna happen,, i wondered about his schedule, and his life compared to in the home, but it seems greys love stimulus, challenges,, Alex was no ordinary parrot,, i wish he had been bred, i wish there were little Alex’s to come, I never heard of a grey likw Alex ever,, i have seen first hand what people can do to parrots ,, having volunteered in a parrot rescue, its a sin, beyond a sin the abuse, i worked with macaws, amazons too’s, greys all the product of human ignorance that people created,, and who pays,,? the parrot does,,, i think his work contributed to better understanding of parrots in general,, he left behind a legacy and footsteps that will never , ever be able to be filled He left something behind to let humans think about, only if we would ,, God gave him to us for only a short while,, and now hes free flying in the heavens,, and at peace,,,,, hes in a better place now,, but helped his fellow parrots out while he was here, in form of trying to educate ,,us humans,, He made a difference,,,,, he will be missed, and never forgotten,,,,

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