When Dr. Irene Pepperberg first started out to research avian intelligence, she never dreamed that along the way, she might for a time have to sacrifice everything – her marriage, her financial wellbeing, her standing as a scientist – in the interests of pursuing her passion.
She simply wondered if birds were as intelligent as she suspected they might be.
She selected an African Grey parrot at random, and named him “Alex”. The letters of Alex’s name were an acronym that stood for “Avian Learning Experiment”.
But throughout Alex’s unexpectedly brief 31-year lifespan (most African Grey parrots can live 50 years or more), this brave and willing participant in service to the cause of expanding our understanding of parrot capabilities became so much more than an acronym and a research subject.
He captured hearts across the globe as news of Dr. Pepperberg’s continual breakthroughs began to circulate. Such breakthroughs included the ability to spell words, grasp abstract concepts (such as “zero”) and hold intelligent conversations with his human counterparts. In time, Dr. Pepperberg’s research showed that Alex had the intellectual capabilities of a 5-year old human child.
Alex built up a resume as a public speaker and guest that included features with the BBC, PBS, the Discovery Channel, the New York Times, the Wall Street Journal, USA Today, and many others.
Following Alex’s passing, Dr. Pepperberg established a research foundation in Alex’s honor. Named The Alex Foundation, this organization continues the work begun with Alex “to support research establishing the cognitive and communicative abilities of parrots as intelligent beings” (from The Alex Foundation website).
She also wrote a book called “Alex & Me”, and another, more clinical text called “The Alex Studies”, to share findings from her groundbreaking work with Alex with interested lay and scientific readers alike.
“Alex & Me” is a book that will change your perception of avian intelligence for the better – and for good. For this reason and many others, Pearl and I have inducted Alex, and his book, into the honorary “love with wings” society.
Plus, Pearl thinks grey and white is the best coloring on a bird.
For more information about Alex & Me and The Alex Foundation: http://alexfoundation.org/