|Psittacus erithacus||Order: Psittaciformes||Family: Psittacidae (New World and African Parrots)|
This endangered species of equatorial Africa breeds in captivity yet is still captured in unsustainable numbers from the wild for the pet trade. Its popularity has been enhanced among pet bird fanciers because of the fact that one individual, named Alex, became famous as a research subject of Harvard and Brandeis University’s Dr. Irene Pepperberg. She bought Alex in a pet store when she was attending Purdue University, and spent the next 30 years working with this one individual.
Alex could identify objects by color, shape, number, and material composition at about the level of chimpanzees and dolphins. His language abilities were equivalent to those of a 2-year old child and he had the problem solving skills of a 5-year old. At the time of his death in 2007, Alex was learning the alphabet, had a vocabulary of 150 words, knew the names of 50 objects and could count up to eight.
Impressive as all this is, there is no evidence that Alex was unusually intelligent for his species, or that Gray Parrots are exceptional among parrots or other highly sociable species in their ability to reason and communicate. It took decades for many scientists to take Pepperberg’s seminal work seriously, and even today some animal behaviorists and psychologists can’t wrap their heads around the truth that Homo sapiens is not the only intelligent species on this planet.