Thursday, August 17, 2006

Bird Brains

I've read over and over again that African Grey Parrots have one of the highest observable intelligences after humans. Here is a video of a Grey Parrot and handler doing some Q&A.

Another Grey Parrot, Alex, has been studied for 22 years now.

Alex has a vocabulary of around 100 words, but is exceptional in that he appears to have understanding of what he says. For example, when Alex is shown an object and is asked about its shape, color, or material, he can label it correctly. If asked the difference between two objects, he will also answer that, but if there is no difference between the objects, he will say "none." When he is tired of being tested, he will say "I’m gonna go away, " and if the researcher displays annoyance, Alex tries to defuse it with the phrase, "I’m sorry." If he says "Wanna banana", but is offered a nut instead, he will stare in silence, ask for the banana again, or take the nut and throw it at the researcher. When asked how many objects of a particular color or a particular material are on a tray, he gives the correct answer approximately 80% of the time.

Preliminary research also seems to indicate that Alex can carry over the concept of four blue balls of wool on a tray to four notes from a piano.

As of 1999, he could identify 50 different objects, recognize quantities up to 6, distinguish 7 colors and 5 shapes, and understand "bigger," "smaller," "same" and "different," and that he was learning the concepts of "over" and "under."

The fact that they are able to replicate human language gives researchers a big advantage in communication and estimating their intelligence.

In addition to Grey Parrots, Corvids (crows, ravens, etc) have been observed to be extremely intelligent. Here is a very interesting story in the New York Times (free registration required) about observing human-like intelligence in ravens.

The amazing intelligence displayed by these birds baffles neuroscientists, who are currently correlating human intelligence with the neocortex, which is not present in avians. It has been suggested that the avian pallium provides the same functionality as the mammalian neocortex.



At 6:09 PM, Blogger Xander said...

More on Einstien the parrot featured in the clip

At 10:09 AM, Blogger Heath said...

R.I.P. Alex (the bird, not you)


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