September 6 is the 5th anniversary of Alex’s death. Many members of the lab staff who knew Alex—many of whom are always students—have graduated and moved on by now. Most of us who work at the lab now have only heard stories of Alex’s strange intelligence from the lab managers and Dr. Pepperberg, but those stories remain astonishing. How Alex seemed to boss students around; how he intruded on the other parrots’ questions during research sessions, answering before them; how he spoke newly learned labels all night long, as if rehearsing and solidifying their meanings. He chatted busily in a way that was reminiscent of a very young child. There is no knowing whether Alex had an inner life or a consciousness—there is never a way to know that for sure. But those who worked with the bird cared for the personality he seemed to have, and cared for his surprising intelligence. He is missed.

We’re doing a few things to commemorate this date. Here’s what’s up at the lab:

Release of Life With Alex Movie

First off, we want to tell you about something that’s got us really excited. For a few years, a documentary on Alex’s life, entitled Life With Alex, has been in production—and it’s finally here.

Life With Alex is a compelling film about non-human cognition and learning. Follow Alex and his colleagues, Dr. Irene Pepperberg, lab manager Arlene Levin-Rowe, and their student assistants. Learn about Alex’s accomplishments and relationships, which changed forever what we know about how animals think. See never-before-released footage of Alex, in which he uses meaningful human speech to convey how he thought and felt every day.

For more information on the new movie, please visit The movie will be released in the coming weeks. To sign up for our mailing list to receive updates and hear when the movie comes out, sign up here.

A Reminder: Raffle!

Finally, a reminder. A few weeks ago, I posted about a raffle we’re holding for this original watercolor painting, generously donated by its creator, Arlene Powers:

The painting is a portrait of and tribute to Alex, but would make a tasteful and beautiful addition to any bird-lover’s home. You still have one week to enter this raffle! Each ticket is $5, or 5 tickets for $20, and can be purchased here. The winner will be picked on September 6th, the anniversary of Alex’s death.

We hope your summer has been beautiful, and stick with us for more posts and updates.

[author] [author_image timthumb=’on’][/author_image] [author_info]Megan McGrath 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]
  1. It is because of Irene that Alex is so real to so many of us, including Megan, even though we never got to meet him. I know his spirit is still in the lab with his friends. And in this blog.

  2. I am sad that Alex is been gone so long it was because of Alex and
    IRENE PEPPERBERG that i bought an african grey in 2008 and I love him so much he is always learning and he makes me laugh at the things he learns..R.I.P Alex fly with the angels

  3. Dr.P, Today my heart goes out to you. ALEX was the reason, I became a breeder, a breeder with that took the time to learn about this species. I breed to teach my owners to repect, feed healhty foods, and to let them know how these Greys get into your heart. Thank you, I learned through you and ALEX. WITH WARM ALOHA
    Ellie owner of Grammas Aviary.

  4. My heart breaks over and over every time I think about Alex. I first saw Dr. P and Alex on PBS on a special about Parrots in general. Not too long after that, my dad bought an African Gray. Rosie is still with us, and now I have a Gray of my own, Neo. Alex will always have a special place in my heart, and I talk about him often with people who didn’t know of him.

  5. WALTHAM, MA (SEPTEMBER 10, 2007)—Alex, the world renowned African Grey parrot made famous by the ground-breaking cognition and communication research conducted by Irene Pepperberg, Ph.D., died at the age of 31 on September 6, 2007. Dr. Pepperberg’s pioneering research resulted in Alex learning elements of English speech to identify 50 different objects, 7 colors, 5 shapes, quantities up to and including 6 and a zero-like concept. He used phrases such as “I want X” and “Wanna go Y”, where X and Y were appropriate object and location labels. He acquired concepts of categories, bigger and smaller, same-different, and absence. Alex combined his labels to identify, request, refuse, and categorize more than 100 different items demonstrating a level and scope of cognitive abilities never expected in an avian species. Pepperberg says that Alex showed the emotional equivalent of a 2 year-old child and intellectual equivalent of a 5 year-old. Her research with Alex shattered the generally held notion that parrots are only capable of mindless vocal mimicry.

  6. Alex had lived his entire life in captivity, but he knew that beyond the lab’s door, there was a hallway and a tall window framing a leafy elm tree. He liked to see the tree, so Pepperberg put her hand out for him to climb aboard. She walked him down the hall into the tree’s green light.

  7. Life in the lab Alex and his fellow lab birds enjoy a good, if unorthodox, life for a parrot. They spend between 8 and 12 hours a day playing and working with graduate students who run them through their paces in the MIT laboratory. Each bird has its own large cage with toys.

  8. There is also sadness, as when Alex suffered illness (life-threatening aspergillosis, requiring surgery) and the inevitable episodes of fear, loneliness and deprivation. For me, one of the most poignant revelations was his love of a tree planted in the courtyard of the laboratory building where he stayed. He liked to shoulder surf down to look at it. I wonder whether his fascination expressed some hard-wired recognition of what would have been a central part of his life had he been a wild parrot. And if so, what did he see in the tree? Did he perceive it as beautiful? And was it mainly an aesthetic experience? Or did it call forth some ineffable yearning for another life? Did it make him feel sad, empty or unfulfilled?

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