Alex, The Famous Talking African Grey Parrot, Has Passed Away But His Legacy Lives on
Alex Changed the Perception of "Bird Brain," Giving it a Whole New Meaning
Remarkable Cognition and Talking Ability
Doctor Irene Pepperberg is a scientist (adjunct professor of psychology, Brandeis University; lecturer at Harvard) who has become recognized the world over for her research with parrots and related studies into avian cognition. She worked extensively with a parrot named Alex, an African Grey that proved to be a remarkable student. Pepperberg's "Alex Studies" forever changed perceptions about avian intelligence.
In 1977, Irene visited a pet store. At the time, she had completed a doctorate at Harvard in theoretical chemistry and she'd felt inspired by the intelligence of dolphins and chimps. She was interested in pursuing this further but with an avian subject.
She found what she was looking for, a one-year-old African gray parrot that she subsequently purchased and named Alex, for Avian Learning Experiment.
She and Alex were about to embark on an adventure that would ultimately change the course of her life and forever alter perceptions about avian intelligence and cognition. Alex would go on to blow the lid off regarding avian communicative ability and he would quash the notion that parrots are mere mimics, with no cognition around the words they choose to use.
Dr. Pepperberg says that Alex was at the emotional level of a 2-year-old child. If Alex became tired, he would fling objects off trays, signaling he had had enough, and he would state, "Want to go back."
After 15 years of being an only bird and being the center of attention, other parrots were brought into the lab.
According to a New York Times Sunday Book Review article, "The Caged Bird Speaks" by Elizabeth Royte, Pepperberg related that Alex was cocky and precocious. He would occasionally "butt in" on other experiments with parrots, adding his insights or counting when other parrots refused to do so, and he would correct the other birds in their answers.
And he was also possessive of Irene. If she greeted one of the other birds first in the morning, Alex would be out of sorts and would refuse to cooperate. He never forgot the special bond they'd forged and he well knew he had been the first bird.
Alex understood the concept of larger-smaller and he could identify 50 objects. Pepperberg said Alex had the intellectual capacity of a 5-year-old.
The reviewer also came under Alex's spell when he repeatedly asked for a nut and finally resorted to spelling it out, which even stunned Pepperberg.
Alex Far More Than Just a Research Parrot
- Alex could identify objects and say what they were
- He learned to identify 5 shapes
- Alex recognized 7 colors
- He understood the concept of same and different
- He knew that objects were bigger and smaller
Alex and Me: A Scientist and A Parrot Discover A World of Animal Intelligence
Alex & Me
“Alex & Me,” is Irene Pepperberg’s touching memoir of her 30-year research working with a feisty and remarkable African gray parrot name Alex.The duo would go on to garner legions of fans.
This book is eye-opening and a thoroughly enjoyable read, a chronicle of a working relationship that forged a lasting legacy.
Something almost magical happens when humans can actually talk with animals and those animals understand and respond. This particular magic is captured in Alex & Me. A great read for all who are fascinated with with African grey parrots.
Alex & Me
The Alex Studies: Cognitive and Communicative Abilities of Grey Parrots
Alex's Final Words
Sadly, all good things come to an end... After a normal day, with nothing out of the ordinary, Pepperberg engaged in her usual nighttime routine with Alex and put him in his cage. The last thing that Dr. Pepperberg heard Alex say was, "You be good. I love you. I'll see you tomorrow."
A Fateful Evening...
An Unexpected Passing
The morrow, however, brought great sadness. Alex had gone to sleep for the very last time and did not waken, as usual, in the morning.
That feisty ball of feathers, a precocious parrot that had taken the scientific world by storm, had left unexpectedly. His sudden passing was met with shock and grief.
Understandably, the person he spent the most time with was deeply impacted.
Alex, the African Grey parrot who played such a pivotal role in ground-breaking cognition research, passed away at 31 years.
Irene Pepperberg (Animal Cognition Scientist) | NOVA scienceNOW
More Than Just a Working Relationship
When asked about her relationship with Alex, Pepperberg said, “We were very, very close colleagues." And she added, “Think about working with a colleague for 30 years. That’s the kind of relationship we had."
Irene went everywhere with Alex and she described his death as a huge hole. She said it was like losing a child or losing a spouse. "For 30 years Alex was the center of my life." Pepperberg keeps Alex’s ashes close by.
Alex's Passing Given Wide News Coverage
An Unbreakable Bond
When interviewed by managing editor Greg Ross of American Scientist Online, about her feelings for Alex, Pepperburg related that while trying to maintain a professional working relationship with Alex, (a collegial relationship, as she called it), "After he died" she said, "that barrier crumbled and I realized just how much I had been denying and pushing away all those years."
Alex's Impact on Dr. Pepperberg
- Knowledge about cognition and communication gained from studies with Alex has been used to help children with learning disabilities, based on the rival-model technique.
- The Alex Studies are Pepperberg's comprehensive review, chronicling decades of "learning about learning" from Alex.
Alex's name was an acronym for the research project, Avian Learning EXperiment.
June 1976-September 2007
If you would like to support avian research, please consider making a donation in Alex's memory to:
The Alex Foundation, c/o Dr. Irene Pepperberg, Department of Psychology/MS-062, 415 South Street, Brandeis University, Waltham, MA 02454.
- The Alex Foundation- Home page
The Alex Foundation supports research that will expand the base of knowledge establishing the cognitive and communicative abilities of African Grey parrots as intelligent beings
- NOVA | Profile: Irene Pepperberg & Alex
One woman's 30-year relationship with an African gray parrot transformed our understanding of bird intelligence.
Alex Featured in Programs
- Alex interacted with Alan Alda in an episode of Scientific American Frontiers on PBS.
- Alex was featured worldwide on numerous science programs, including BBC, NHK, Discovery and PBS.
Goodbye To Alex, a Gifted Parrot
Good-Bye to Alex
Alex had become the world's most famous parrot. His passing generated an outpouring of grief from fans the world over. Alex may have spent a short time on this earth but this remarkable African Grey left a lasting legacy.
*Copyright Athlyn Green (M. Rhodes). Do not copy.
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© 2007 Athlyn Green
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