In Brief—Some (not all) of what you always wanted to know about parrots. They’re much smarter than you thought.
No More “Dumb Animal” Nonsense—
“Polly want a cracker” belongs to the dark ages when humans thought birds were…well-l-l, “bird brains.” Turns out they’re as smart as your little four-year-old genius. Maybe smarter.
Scientist Carl Safina wrote a wonderful book about his observations of animal intelligence. “Beyond Words” will forever change the way we humans see animals…except, of course, your view that the family dog is smarter than a whip. I am compelled to add that I must make an exception for the King Charles Spaniel. They’ve been bred to have a skull too small for their brains. Dog breeding is an abomination…but that’s a subject for another piece.
But back to animal intelligence. Safina has studied and observed elephants, dolphins, killer whales (Orcas), bonobos, chimps, wolves, dogs, crows and more. Elephants, dolphins and killer whales recognize themselves, have names, superb memories, are peaceable and much, much more. Did I mention peaceable? Despite this, it’s a mistake to believe that they think as humans do since they have their own way of seeing the world that is every bit as complex as ours. I heartily recommend that you read Safina’s book. It will elevate the way you look at the animal kingdom.
Enter the Parrot—
This piece is about parrots, however. Researchers have generally ignored parrots until recently, not least because they were harder to study than warblers and tits. No longer. New York Times science writer Natalie Angier wrote an article with lots of beautiful photos that revealed the truth behind years of relative silence.
Turns out that parrots are not just colorful pets or fixtures in pubs that whistle at entering females, they are more intelligent than previously thought thanks to the work of Dr. Juan Masello. Hands covered by parrot bite scars from their strong beaks, Dr. Masello reports they are not only beautiful and inspirational, they are amazing beyond words. Parrots are so smart they are often referred to as “feathered primates.”
So how smart are they? Parrots rival the great apes and dolphins in their ability to think creatively AND they have a sense of rhythm. Ingenious creatures, they make and use tools as well as teach their young how to do this. They communicate in distinct dialects and can easily learn the dialects of other parrots. Their longevity can be between 50 and 90 years or more, remarkable for any animal.
Tropical and subtropical birds, parrots adapt to different environments as can be seen in Southern California where a few escaped green parrots now can be seen in large noisy flocks in the palm trees there.
My mother related a story about the pet parrot in her childhood home. The parrot was good at imitating their telephone ring, pause a moment and then imitate the servant’s “Telephone, Miz Vrooman, telephone.” My grandmother had to learn that it was the parrot, not the phone. Years later, as the parrot was dying, it tried to climb the stairs to my grandmother’s room, but died before it could make it. Loyalty? Love?
I mentioned parrots’ rhythm earlier. You haven’t lived until you watch Snowball, a cockatoo, groove to Michael Jackson’s music. It can be found on youtube by typing “Snowball, parrot” into your browser. “Amazing” is the word.
If you want to learn more about parrots and their cousins than the little I have written here, I recommend you click on the link below. You’ll be glad you did….and you may even want to go out and buy a pet parrot.