African grey
African grey
Alex Dr. Pepperberg's test parrot
Alex Dr. Pepperberg's test parrot
Dr. Irene Pepperberg  (Photo - Mike Lovett)
Dr. Irene Pepperberg (Photo - Mike Lovett)

My friend has an African Grey parrot called Simba who has completely taken over the family. He can talk, show emotion such as jealousy, love and frustration, he understands commands and is very amusing; he is able to sing, dance and make choices about what he eats and even lets her know when he wants a hug! Simba's intelligence and ability to interact is similar to that of a small child. Simba is now 30 years old and still going strong (they can up to 70years).

He is also naughty; being able to mimic my friends voice exactly, he has been known to confuse the dog by calling out "Jimbo walkies!" whereupon the dog rushes for his lead, his whole body wagging in anticipation as he stands by the door. (Simba's cage door is always open so he has free range of the whole house). He then waddles over to Jimbo, stands in front of him, looks up and repeats "Jimbo Walkies !" It's hilarious to watch this large white Lab, looking down at Simba (who stands maybe 8" tall) with his head cocked to this side then that, forehead furrowed and completely confused. Poor Jimbo gets fooled every time! He is clearly very awed by this small creature who sounds like his 'mom.'

I remember watching the National Geographic channel one evening. I picked up a story half way through about a trained parrot. He was quite incredible! This parrot was interacting with his owner; telling her when he was hungry or thirsty, how he was feeling and asking her how she was feeling. Alex, the thirty-year-old African Grey talking parrot, was famous. He was using phrases such as “I wanna go in the car ” or “Where are you going?” He was able to understand and categorize objects and sizes such as bigger and smaller, same or different. He was even able to notice the absence of things. He could explain all his needs and wants by using language. He showed emotion and concern for his owner Dr. Pepperberg. During the show, we watched some of the amazing dialogues with Alex.

It was hard to believe this was a bird and not a small person! He was able to combine words; he could identify, request, refuse, and categorize over 100 different items. Alex exhibited the emotional equivalent of a 2-year-old child, and the intellect of a 5-year-old. Dr. Pepperberg's research broke the notion that parrots are only capable of mimicry. She grew to love this parrot dearly and wrote a book about him.

Dr. Pepperberg first became interested in communication with other species whilst she studied at Harvard, working on a doctoral thesis in theoretical chemistry. She watched Nova programs on signing chimps, dolphin communication, and most notably, on why birds sing. Shortly after, she decided to conduct research on an African Grey parrot. She chose a random bird from a pet store to ensure there was no selective breeding. Alex was one year old. She made up the name from the acronym “Avian Learning EXperiment." Alex lived nearly all his life in Pepperberg’s lab with other parrots. The birds spent twelve hours a day, when they weren’t sleeping at night, with at least one human companion working with them.

Apparently, Alex was wonderful to work with. When offered a treat, he would accept it with a “Grrrrrrreat!”, and then, “Yummy!” He called for “Banari,” a combination of “banana” and “cherry” (capable of making up combination words on his own). Alex was able to transfer his concept of “zero” from the same-different study to numbers. “Zero” is considered a very sophisticated concept even for humans. She would show him a picture of three apples and Alex would say ‘three apples ’ If he was asked how many oranges there were, Alex would reply ‘none.’ He got this right with multiple objects. If she held up a square and asked, “What shape,” Alex would respond, “Corners.” He could identify colors and he could count the number of objects on a tray. Alex even told the other parrots to “talk better” if they mumbled!

Sadly Alex died in 2007 at age 31, which is young for a parrot. Pepperberg was heartbroken and quoted as saying “It is devastating to lose an individual you’ve worked with pretty much every day for 30 years.".

When she left the lab the night before Alex died, his last words to her were: “You be good, see you tomorrow. I love you.”

More by this Author

Comments 35 comments

tonymac04 profile image

tonymac04 7 years ago from South Africa

Wonderful - I think the concept of inter-species communication is really fascinating. Thanks for sharing this.

My godmother had a green parrot called Mumfy who was incredibly funny. He would make what she called "jungle noises" and then say, "Mumfy, that's naughty." Mumfy would also mimic the telephone ringing and then the sound of the phone being answered by my godmother's companion, and then mimic my godmother being called to the phone. This all could cause some hilarious misunderstandings!

Mumfy also mimicked an uncle's footsteps on the porch, his dry smoker's cough, and his knock on the door. Very often my godmother was fooled and went to open the door.

Love and peace


brightforyou profile image

brightforyou 7 years ago from Florida Author

Hi Tony, thanks for sharing your hilarious Mumfy stories... they are SO clever, naughty, funny, lovable.

My friend's Parrot Simba is able to mimic my friends voice exactly. He has been known to confuse the dog by calling out "Jimbo walkies!" whereupon the dog rushes for his lead, does a triple somersault and stands by the door, his whole body wagging in anticipation. Simba then walks over to the dog and repeats the call (it really looks like he is enjoying the dogs confusion). Actually I think I will include this in the text!

BkCreative profile image

BkCreative 7 years ago from Brooklyn, New York City

How beautiful they are!

It's time we started realizing that our feathered (and furry and everything else) friends are more than just pets - they are in their own right incredible, amazing - and doesn't it seem like they all have a sense of humor? I just love that Simba plays with the dog like that.

Thanks for a lovely kindhearted hub!

brightforyou profile image

brightforyou 7 years ago from Florida Author

Hi BkCreative thanks for your comments - I agree, animals are far more than just pets - and they definitely have a sense of humor. Righ now my family and I are getting so much joy and fun from our 5 month old kitten; he is so adorable, naughty, loving and totally in charge of all of us!

ehern33 profile image

ehern33 7 years ago

What an amazing story on both accounts. Parrots are awesome in my view although never had one personally, have been around a few. None were as funny as Simba. Nice to lighten up the day with such a cute story although it was sad the way it ended. Thanks for sharing.

brightforyou profile image

brightforyou 7 years ago from Florida Author

Thank you for your comments ehern33 - I'd love a Parrot, but I think you have to be prepared to give them a lot of attention. If not, they will pluck away at the their chest feathers and become depressed (how sad).. so, as I haven't got the time, I must live vicariously through my friend and enjoy Simba's antics. Its so much fun seeing the dog and the parrot together!

Pamela99 profile image

Pamela99 7 years ago from United States

What a wonderful hub. I love African Gray parrots. I heard they can learn up to 2000 words. Sad ending, but great story.

brightforyou profile image

brightforyou 7 years ago from Florida Author

Glad you enjoyed it Pamela ~ thanks for stopping by!

i scribble profile image

i scribble 7 years ago

I became enamoured of Alex and parrots (esp. African Greys)when I first saw a TV segment on him in 2007, right after his death. Sadly, he was already dead when I first heard about him. But Dr Pepperberg continues her work with 2 other parrots, and I try to follow the progress.

You are lucky to have a charming parrot in your life like Simba (named after the Lion King character?) I, like you, would like to have a parrot but don't have the time to devote to it. This is a delightful hub. I'm signing up as a follower & will check out what else you have.

I have discovered another amazing semi-famous African Grey. I'm working on a hub about him now. I hope you will check it out when its posted. I also have a hub about real talking elephants! Animal intelligence is fascinating, isn't it?

brightforyou profile image

brightforyou 7 years ago from Florida Author

I just wrote a long answer ~but it somehow got lost when I cliced post... so thank you so much for your comments; I love your hub about the talking Elephant - very nice to meet and follow you!

ralwus 7 years ago

I remember him and the Dr. She is at OSU, poor Alex, they were so shocked with his sudden death, me too. I now have a Solomon Island Eclectus Parrot and he is almost 8 years old and a lot like Alex. He too has total freedom in the house most of the time. Thanks for sharing.

brightforyou profile image

brightforyou 7 years ago from Florida Author

Hi ralwus, Lucky you to have an Eclectus Parrot! Thank you for stopping by and reading my hub.

Nicks 7 years ago

Great Hub. I have always rather wanted a parrot but I cannot quite bring myself to like keeping a bird in a cage. Somehow it just does not seem either right or correct. Does anyone agree?

brightforyou profile image

brightforyou 7 years ago from Florida Author

Hi Nick ~ thanks for reading my hub and for your comment. I agree with you about caging Parrots. Parrot-owners I have known never do 'keep' their parrots in a cage - and like Simba, they have free range of the house (the cage is necessary for transportation and for when you need to contain the bird and also so the Parrot has its own domain and sleeping area.

Anyone considering getting a Parrot should consider the time and attention they need. Because they are intelligent and social, they cannot live without stimulus. Caged Parrots who are neglected this way will pluck at their breast and wing feathers until bald (either through boredom, depression or loneliness).

James McV Sailor profile image

James McV Sailor 7 years ago from Northern California

Great hub. Coincidentally, I am sitting in Philo's Bar in La Cruz, Mexico right now and watching two BIG Macaws climbing around in a cage across the street.... beautiful birds! Thanks, JM

brightforyou profile image

brightforyou 7 years ago from Florida Author

Hi James, thank you for your comments - lucky you in Mexico!! Is it cold there? Its pretty much "brass monkey's" down here in Florida right now!

Foxxfire profile image

Foxxfire 6 years ago from Pennsylvania

Great hub! I have a Congo African Grey. She will be 2 years old in April. You can see her latest story here:

Chrissie 6 years ago

I loved your story. I have two african greys. The one - Buttons thinks he owns the house. He loves calling my puppy 'Scooby', then when Scooby comes he tells him to 'GO'. Needless to say I have a very confused puppy. He also loves calling my son in my voice, it works everytime. I know the minute my husbands car is in the driveway as Buttons does his car alarm.

My other parrot is new to our home and is a rescue. He didn't like humans and will take some time. At least he doesn't swear at us as much anymore!

brightforyou profile image

brightforyou 6 years ago from Florida Author

Buttons sounds like a real character - they just love winding up the dogs, don't they. Its so funny how they get the voice exactly right... thanks for sharing your experiences with your wonderful Parrots!

LillyGrillzit profile image

LillyGrillzit 6 years ago from The River Valley, Arkansas

Thank you for the Parrot Hub. I am parrot owned. We have been together 8 years. She is looking for a husband. I will let her leave the nest if we find...

brightforyou profile image

brightforyou 6 years ago from Florida Author

Hi Lillygrillzit, I hope you find a suitable 'suitor' for your parrot, thanks for your comments!

Christopher Price profile image

Christopher Price 6 years ago from Vermont, USA

I have read about Alex and Dr. Pepperberg but had forgotten those caring last words. Breaks my heart a little every time.

We have as a member of our family a Double Yellow-headed Amazon Parrot named Judy. She is a rescue parrot, having spent about 5 years in a cage stuffed in a closet behind piles of clothes with little human contact, save for some harassment and abuse from the owners children. We've had her for about 3 years and she flies around the house from room to room between her two cages, keeping an eye on my wife and looking for trouble to get into.

It is truly like having a flying toddler in the terrible 2' that can snap a half inch dowel like a matchstick with her beak...think of a winged Edward Scissor Hands with a pair of vice grips for lips! And she can screech loud enough to break plate glass!

She's beautiful and amusing but a handful. She's gotten better about socializing, but she will only let my wife hold her, stroke her or hug her. Her past haunts her I am sure.

Parrots are a long term commitment. You must be in it for the long haul.

Thanks for the great hub.


brightforyou profile image

brightforyou 6 years ago from Florida Author

Hi Christopher - thanks for your kind and amusing comments about Judy and her 'terrible 2' tantrums and antics... Yikes! Its so good of you guys to give her a loving home after all she suffered with the previous family. Parrots get extremely bored and lonely and because they are so intelligent and social, they will pluck out their feathers in frustration and depression. You are absolutely right, they are a life-long commitment and not for the faint-hearted! Thanks so much for sharing Christopher and I'm looking forward to reading more of your hubs.

toyboyclip profile image

toyboyclip 6 years ago from India

I had a Parrot called ammu when im 14 years old.

brightforyou profile image

brightforyou 6 years ago from Florida Author

Hi toyboyclip - Lucky you to have Ammu as your pet parrot - do you still have him?

pamheuer profile image

pamheuer 6 years ago from APACHE JUNCTION, AZ

I was thrilled to see the story of the Greys. I have two of them and they are quite entertaining to say the least. Mine also calls for the dog all the time, then she mimics the dog barking. She'll whistle for him and ask him if he wants to go outside. Oh yes, they are quite entertaining to say the last. Gotta love em!!!

brightforyou profile image

brightforyou 6 years ago from Florida Author

Hi pamheuer, so glad you enjoyed the story and nice to meet you on hubpages - it sounds like you have lots of fun with your wonderful Greys; they are so intelligent, and such fun! Have a very Happy New Year!

Silver Poet profile image

Silver Poet 5 years ago from the computer of a midwestern American writer

I remember watching a TV show about Alex. I was unaware that he had passed away. May he rest in peace. He was indeed special.

brightforyou profile image

brightforyou 5 years ago from Florida Author

Hi Silver Poet, yes he was very special - it just shows how very intelligent birds and animals are!

AskAshlie3433 profile image

AskAshlie3433 5 years ago from WEST VIRGINIA

What a great hub Bright! I have never owned a parrot but I always wanted to. This just makes me want one more. Thanks for the info!

brightforyou profile image

brightforyou 5 years ago from Florida Author

Hi AskAshlie3433 - thanks for stopping by and your kind comments. I would love to own one too! I look forward to reading your hubs. :-) Helen

thehemu profile image

thehemu 5 years ago from New Delhi, India

thanks for sharing such interesting. On humorous side, i have a question Do Simba have gf.

brightforyou profile image

brightforyou 5 years ago from Florida Author

Hi thehemu, I am glad you enjoyed this story. No, Simba doesn't have a gf! ;-) Helen

Parrot Facts 4 years ago

I love parrots, the african grey is definitely one of the most sociable. Great bird you have :)

brightforyou profile image

brightforyou 4 years ago from Florida Author

I love them too - sorry I'm so late in replying... just got back! Thanks for your comments

    Sign in or sign up and post using a HubPages Network account.

    0 of 8192 characters used
    Post Comment

    No HTML is allowed in comments, but URLs will be hyperlinked. Comments are not for promoting your articles or other sites.

    Click to Rate This Article