Most of the people working in the Pepperberg Lab are, like me, students. It’s an awesome opportunity for all of us: we get research and lab management experience, and, of course, animal care experience from taking care of Griffin and Wart all day. Dr. Pepperberg and the lab manager, Arlene, get a steady flow of bright young folks as employees, and we, the students, benefit from working with a prestigious scientific organization. For those of us who intend to pursue careers in the field of animal cognition research, it’s a great chance to build a relationship with Dr. Pepperberg, and to try out our own research for the first time. Everybody benefits.

Given that we’re students, at the end of each year senior members of the staff graduate. This year, I was one of them. I’ve been working in the lab for three and a half years now, and the people who work here have become a bit of a family to me. Arlene has a tradition of throwing a pizza party at the end of each year to send the graduates off well. It was a sweet ending to our time working with the birds. Arlene and I both love taking photos, so we decided to post a few shots we snapped of Pepperberg Lab Pizza Party ’12.

But first, a fundraising announcement! The Alex Foundation functions largely off of your generous donations, so we appreciate every little bit you can give. For the next couple of months, you can double your donation to the Alex Foundation: Mr. Sterner has generously offered to match the first $10,000 of donations received by The Alex Foundation anytime through July 5th. We are thrilled about this opportunity: your donations help us maintain the lab space, feed and care for our birds, and continue with research that improves our understanding of parrot intelligence. If you have ever considered giving to the Pepperberg Lab, this is a wonderful time to do so. You can make your contribution by

  • PayPal, through the “Donate” link on the front page, or
  • Check, made out to “The Alex Foundation,” and sent to Brandeis University, Attn: Pepperberg Lab/MS-062, 415 South St., Waltham, MA 02454

We thank you very much for your support.

Alright! On with the pretty pizza party pictures:


The lobby of the lab building is a nicer space for a party than the lab itself, so for this one day out of the year we bring Griffin and Wart out to the lobby to party with us. Griffin, here on his perch, always gets more vocal than usual during these parties. There's no way of proving animal emotions, but we like to think that the change of scenery, combined with being surrounded with all the people he knows, makes Griffin feel happy.


Wart prefers to stay on his cage, so we wheel it into the lobby. I'm pretty sure he's eyeing someone's slice of pizza in this photo. (Pizza is not the best food for birds, but that doesn't mean they won't beg for it.)


Eunice isn't a senior, but came for pizza anyway. She's been working in the lab for some time now, and she's excellent at handling the birds. If you've worked in the lab for awhile, Griffin will often press his beak against your nose like this and make tiny chuckling noises.


Eunice and Asya, who is a graduating senior.


People often ask why Griffin looks so scruffy; he, like many domesticated parrots, plucks his feathers. I suspect I'll be writing a whole blog post about feather-plucking, or pterotillomania, in captive birds soon---it's an interesting and inscrutable phenomenon. Many pet birds do it, and the reasons behind it seem complicated, much like impulse-control disorders in humans, such as trichotillomania or hair-pulling (or, for that matter, nail-biting, which I have personally never been able to stop doing!). Griffin is bonded very strongly to Dr. Pepperberg, and we believe that his feather-plucking may be due to her long periods of absence---she's been traveling even more this semester than usual.


About halfway through the party, Adrienne (another senior) came by with her own bird, Buddy. Adrienne has spent more time in the lab than many of us (I call her the lab mother, although that title might more properly belong to Arlene), and Buddy is an honorary member of the lab family---I hope you don't mind a few pictures of him. We've never used him for experimental sessions, but we all know and love him well. Adrienne brings him everywhere, and as a result he's one of the best-socialized birds I've ever met. He has no shyness of strangers at all, and is very fun to interact with.


Me! Saying hello to Buddy, who is begging for pizza.


Sam and Buddy having an eye-contact moment. Sam is one of the students who plans to go into animal cognition---specifically bird cognition. She will begin training at one of the country's best ornithology labs this year. I'm very excited to see whatever brilliant research she does there.


The lot of us! From left to right, we are Asya, Sam, Adrienne, Carina, Megan (myself) with Buddy, Eunice, and Ari with Griffin.


Ari talking to Griffin. Ari is an accomplished science student at our school, and also has awhile to go before she graduates.


Eunice and Buddy being very cute.


Eunice and Ari trade off Buddy, who is still begging for pizza.


Arlene, our lab manager, with Sam and Buddy. Arlene does a lot of excellent work managing the lab, which can get pretty hectic. Despite her busy schedule, she throws a really nice pizza party.


Buddy grooms while Griffin keeps an eye on him. Even though Griffin and Buddy are from the same phylogenetic family (Psittacidae---parrots!), and in the wild inhabit roughly the same region of the world---West Africa---their two species are morphologically very different. Griffin is an African Grey parrot (Psittacus erithacus), and Buddy is a Senegal parrot (Poicephalus senegalus). Why so different-looking? I couldn't tell you---it's due to their species' divergent evolutionary histories---but this is the sort of thing I love thinking about. At the Pepperberg Lab we study cognitive ability, and it's possible that just as these two species have different morphologies, they may have different cognitive abilities as well.


That’s all for now! Stay tuned for more blog posts—soon, I promise, now that I’ve graduated (wow!) and the pace of my schedule has slowed. The next post will be a look at the lab’s latest publication, which is based on some of the last data that Dr. Pepperberg collected with Alex, and had some pretty interesting results.


[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. I recommend flax seed oil, organic raw flax seeds AND red palm oil be added to Wart and Griffin’s food. I also feed my Congo Grey, Kiko, human baby food and a high quality seed mix as well as adding foods I eat as well, from time to time. Kiko is in magnificent feather, does not pluck at all, preens a lot and puts out copious amounts of dander. He is 4 1/2 years old. I think the oils help a lot.

    • Hi Walt!

      Thanks for the important info. I would like to try it on my miligold macaw who is a plucker. How much of the flax seed oil, flax seed, and palm oil do you put give Kiko each day?

      • Sorry for the delay in responding-I just revisited this site now! Kiko gets EITHER flax oil OR red palm oil twice a day (morning and evening) about 1/4 to 1/3 teaspoon, and about 1/2 teaspoon of flax seed (raw and organic whole seed), plus high quality seed mix (Higgins) and people foods (I feed him a variety of human baby foods) as well as sharing what I eat. He gobbles it down. He is a rather large Grey, over 500 grams. He is quite the talker. Best of luck with the plucking. Kiko is in terrific feather and we hope to keep it that way.

  2. The pictures are lovely! I very much wish I had been able to go. Congrats to all of the graduates!

  3. I love hearing virtually anything from the Pepperberg Lab. I don’t care if it’s about pizza or scientific breakthroughs!! I have a scruffbucket Grey named Skexie who looks alot like Griffin. Let me know when you figure out the cause for plucking. Spent hundreds on all the tests. Bottom line…it’s psychotic behaviior. I hate those answers!! Good luck graduates!! I envy your time at the Pepperberg Lab!

  4. I love this blog! The writing is wonderful and the pictures are terrific. I can’t wait to enjoy all the news from the lab in the future!

  5. I am from the yahoo group, Always, Alex, thanks for sharing your blog and photos. Congratulations to the seniors in the Class of 2012. Good luck!

  6. I love the pics! I am glad I am not the only one having trouble with feather picking. Willie is a 5 yr old female Congo. I got her in Feb. and she had been a picker for about a year. She was on pellets only. I have added a good quality seed, nuts and several different types of good pellets. I also share my fruit and vegies with her. She is getting better, but still goes through bouts of picking. But at least she now has a beautiful red tail!

  7. Congrates to all rhe seniors and I’m glad the Wart and Griffin have such people in their lifes. Thank you for starting this blog Megan.

  8. Thanks for the great blog and pictures! Love to hear anything about the lab’s work and the people who do it. Much praise to you who are going on to work in areas such as animal cognition, because I believe that your work will help people who don’t have birds or even “normal” pets like dogs and cats understand why the animal world needs more respect and protection. And maybe if we can offer animals more respect and protection, we can do it for humans, too… You folks will help make the world a better place. Believe it!

    • Wren–Just want to let you know how happy this comment made me: Very, very happy! Thanks for the kind words! ~ Megan



  10. Awesome, I love parrots, run a rescue in Texas, thankyou so much for the pictures and updates @ the lab. I have followed Alex and Dr. P. work for many years, thankyou for your work, hopefully the rest of the world will “get” what Dr. P. and Alex accomplished and they will get the respect and recongination they deserve from people who don’t share their lives with these amazing creatures, we who do have parrots in our homes and are lucky enough to have earned their trust already know.

  11. And thanks to all the students, parrots, and Dr. P. for all of your hard work in letting the world realize the brilliance of these magnificent creatures!!! 😉

  12. Released in September 2012 to coincide with the fifth anniversary of Alex’s death, you may worry that this is either a morbid or dry documentary. But it’s not. This engaging memoir is a celebration of Alex’s life and accomplishments — and it’s a peek into future insights that may await us. But first and foremost, this documentary a labour of love.

  13. Released in September 2012 to coincide with the fifth anniversary of Alex’s death, you may worry that this is either a morbid or dry documentary. But it’s not. This engaging memoir is a celebration of Alex’s life and accomplishments — and it’s a peek into future insights that may await us. But first and foremost, this documentary a labour of love.

  14. Since I’ve always been interested in reading about primate studies, I decided to learn more about intelligence in other species. I read the book ALEX and ME as soon as it was available. What a wonderful story! I laughed…and cried. Then I sent it to my daughter, who has a young African Gray.

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