Morning in the Pepperberg Lab

Mornings in the lab are quiet. Griffin and Arthur eat their breakfasts—Griffin on the top of his cage, Arthur inside, fastidiously choosing the tastiest parts of fruits and vegetables and tossing the rest to the floor. We’ll start doing experimental sessions sometime soon, asking the parrots questions and collecting data to learn more about how they think and see the world. But for now, we are all relaxed. Griffin has climbed to a perch and is dozing, shoulders hunched and one foot coiled up into his feathers, perhaps to keep it warm; Arthur is running his beak through his feathers, grooming and straightening.

The Pepperberg Lab, founded by Dr. Irene Pepperberg, is the home of The Alex Foundation, and of our two African Grey parrots (Psittacus erithacus), Griffin and Arthur (Wart for short, in the style of King Arthur). In the lab, we run experiments that examine the cognitive abilities of this species of parrot. We know that these animals think—but how do they think? How do they perceive the world? Just how “smart” are they? Animal cognition is a fairly new and engaging field of research; every species thinks, acts, and perceives in ways best suited to its particular evolutionary history. At the lab, we perform research that we hope will expand the base of knowledge establishing the cognitive and communicative abilities of parrots as intelligent beings.

This blog will have periodic postings about animal cognition and intelligence, including commentary on the latest research in the field, as well as updates on happenings here at the lab. We hope you will join us as we ask and answer questions about living things.

Griffin is done dozing, and is saying “Want a nut!” repeatedly in his raspy, beaky voice. Time to start the day.

 

[author] [author_image timthumb=’on’]http://alexfoundation.org/wp-content/uploads/2012/04/megan-011.jpg[/author_image] [author_info]Megan McGrath is a Biology student at Brandeis University and has worked with the Pepperberg Lab for several years. She is pursuing a career in research on animal cognition, communication, and perception.[/author_info] [/author]
35 Comments
  1. I love that you are starting a blog. Can you include pictures in some of future posts?

    • Hi Joe! We will most likely post pictures here, and in the mean time feel free to follow our Facebook page (search for “The Alex Foundation”). We post a lot of pictures there. ~ Megan

  2. I just love the high lites of there day to day routine and yes Jake my gray is saying want a yummie, pretty bir jakes a good boy want a yummie over and over again Steve

  3. I look forward to following your blog. I have an Amazon and been curious about vocabulary versus intelligence. Right now KC has his head tucked into his wing and taking a snooze. A quite afternoon nap. He joins a German Shepherd, 2 Bichon Frise’s and a Cat. Interesting menagerie of interaction. <3

  4. Looking forward to reading the blog.

  5. I am particularly thrilled with the minute details of how Griffin and Wart peruse their breakfast material, and with how they entertain themselves, afterward. I believe that observing how they chose to spend their time, is important for contextualization. I am sure that followers of Dr. Pepperberg’s work, will be enthralled with continued updates about her research, coupled with what the birds are up to. Nicely done!

  6. So glad you’re starting a blog! Look forward to future posts.

  7. Im looking forward to reading more!

  8. It’s great to see the Blog, Megan. Good thinking. I myself also have my degree in Animal Cognition and Behavior–undergrad only, but they’ve wanted me back for years. Unfortunately, I have family I’ve got to take of. In the meantime, I’ve started my own business which does educational programs and I’m also referring to the Lab in cognitive studies as I’ve done for years. To this day, even as humans, we have no real grasp on where intelligence comes from or really what it is since it comes in so many forms. It’ll be great hearing regular updates on what you are doing so I can keep letting people know about the uniqueness of the parrot world and the work you guys do in cognition, intelligence and language information. Thank you so much for all the hard work the lab does. Does Wart still have his Parrot Pocket I sent out there a few years ago? Arlene should know about it…

    • So glad you continue your work in the field of education. The world at large needs more education on the world of parrots.

    • Debbie, Yes we still have the pocket. It is not in his cage at the moment, but thanks for the reminder. I will get it out of his box of toys. -Arlene

  9. Can wait to watch and see the blog and updates!

    Corknut Cindy

  10. Awesome! I would love to read about just how smart i really am – thank you for working on that! Kisses and scritches for Griffin & Wart. <3

  11. Love the blog and it is like my house in the AM with Oliver (35+ yo) and Charlie (9 yo) African greys. What a terrific opportunity you have working in the lab and pursuing your degree.

  12. Like the Blog a lot. Will follow along.

  13. Let me know if you ever get anymore size 3X zip up hoodies. Mine is wearing out.

  14. I am looking forward to following your blog. Love to hear about what the boys and their progress. Beaky kisses to Griffin and Arthur!

  15. THIS IS GOING TO BE A GREAT SITE. I LOOK FORWARD TO READING ABOUT THE DAY TO DAY ADVENTURES OF GRIFFIN AND WART.

    I DON’T HAVE A GREY BUT A SENEGAL AND TIEL. THEY ARE SMART IN THEIR OWN WAY. BIRDS ARE VERY REMARKABLE CREATURES.

    FELLOW CORKNUT TERI

  16. Awesome! I can’t wait for you humans to find out just how smart we really are! Hugs & Scritches for Griffin and Wart. <3

  17. I found your blog on Facebook and enjoyed reading it. So glad you are doing this.

  18. This is a Wonderful idea! I can’t wait to read more! Thanks for sharing with all of us!

  19. I think it’s wonderful that you have started a blog!
    I will look forward to reading more

  20. Whoopee! I am thrilled to see the beginning of this blog. Thank you for stepping up to do this Megan. I hope you will encourage people to send greetings and messages to Griffin and Wart. Please read their messages to them, Megan, to let them know they have people interested in what they are doing. They are the hope for the future in this work and any encouragement we can send them is time well spent!

    Hope things are going well for you, Wart.

    Keep up the good work, Griff! You are such a smarty pants. Thanks for your good work. Let your light shine.

  21. No problem Pickles, we love you at TAF. – Arlene

  22. Awesome now we are included in your days in a more personal way I think this will be my morning coffee companion instead of Fishville…..

  23. Love the blog….I will definitely follow along!! Scritches to the boys!!

  24. Love this blog and I’m looking forward to following along as it develops!!

  25. Love that you are doing this, a wonderful way to share and teach all of us who can’t be there with you in the lab. I hope you can get Dr. P and Arlene both to take some time out of their hectic schedules to do their own entries as well. Thank you, every one of you of TAF, present and past, for doing work that helps us understand our own birds better and that reminds the human race once again that we share the planet with thinking, feeling, reasoning creatures!!

  26. It’s wonderful to see the new site. I love the blog idea also!

  27. I would love to talk to someone about my 4yr African Grey Parrot
    Fantasia. She is capable of understanding language and I am guessing that she knows 100 words. I was not feeling well one day and she asked me “hey mom you alright?”. She knows the names of the other animals “cuddles, noodle, & pep”. She asks for food and water. She knows the difference between “good morning” and “time to go to bed”.
    She plays games with the dog and if he gets to close she will say
    “ouch! , stop!, knock if off”.

    Thanks

  28. That funding for this type research is still close to nonexistent in the US, and that we are dependent right now exclusively upon The Alex Foundation to keep the lab open and running.

  29. That funding for this type research is still close to nonexistent in the US, and that we are dependent right now exclusively upon The Alex Foundation to keep the lab open and running.

  30. Once, when a research sponsor stopped by the lab to see Alex show off his “reading” skills, Alex seemed to show the visitor another type of behavior–condescension. “He asked for a nut–‘Wanna nut’–after each successful answer,” remembers Pepperberg, chuckling. “Each time we asked him to perform one more time. And each time he repeated, ‘Wanna nut.’ “Finally, he said, ‘Wanna NUT!’. And then he sounded out the word the same way we taught him: ‘Nnn-uhhh-TUH!’ as if to spell it out for us.” The amazing thing here is that Alex was trained the phonetics for “N” and “T”, but not for “U”, he figured that out all on his own! Dr. Pepperberg’s work has helped ALL parrots everywhere and EVERYONE that owns and CARES about parrots. We at the Avian Education & Research Center thank Dr. Pepperberg for all that she and Alex have done. If you can, please donate to the Alex Foundation, as Dr. Pepperberg really needs the funding to continue her very valuable work.

  31. Time heals. Not, however, neither nearly as quickly nor as fully as we are led to believe. Five years after Alex’s passing, he is still sorely missed; by me and, I believe, by Griffin and Arthur, the other African grey parrots in my lab. Days still exist, particularly when I return after a long absence, during which I walk into the laboratory, glance at the cage in the far corner of the room, and expect to be greeted by Alex’s familiar, imperious “Come here!” [Yes, we still have Alex’s cage; Griffin likes to climb on it and play there. We think it helps him accept Alex’s absence and gives him some confidence in his new role as “alpha” bird.] Alex’s voice, of course, has been stilled, and the momentary sadness passes, because Griffin’s more plaintiff “Come here” and Arthur’s “Tickle” make it clear that life and research in the lab continues.

  32. In late 2007, Alex the grey parrot stunned the world when he died suddenly and unexpectedly. But Alex was more than just a parrot, he was a colleague to animal cognition researcher Irene Pepperberg. As a direct result of their decades of work together, Alex could identify a variety of colours, shapes, numbers and letters, he could count, and he understood a number of concepts.

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