dimanche, janvier 14, 2007


My parents have an African grey parrot named Paco. African greys are known as the best mimics in the bird world and as very smart when it comes to birds in general.

Anyhow, my parents got Paco in 1982 and the bird is my nemesis. As a little kid, I was frightened that he'd bite me and I took to calling him names, like "nerd." He was straight outta the jungle when they got him and it took two years of affection, patience, and treats from them to tame him.

Paco and I still don't get along, but he does some pretty interesting things. Take, for example, this fact: If both the tv and the living room light are turned off (in either order), he'll say "goodnight" in my dad's voice and respond with "goodnight" in my mother's voice. He also loved to torture my dog. He'd say "sit" in my mother's voice, and the dog would sit, trembling all over because she was expecting a treat. Once the dog was in a total frenzy, Paco would say "up!" in my mother's voice. The dog would be drooling, and waiting for a treat to be thrown in the air, but it would never come.

I haven't lived at home for 14 years, but if Paco hears my voice, he immediately says "nerd." I stand by my assertion that it's not that he knows what I am, but that my voice triggers a set of vocab that I used back when I lived at home with him. Or so I hope ...
Parrot's oratory stuns scientists
By Alex Kirby, BBC News

The finding of a parrot with an almost unparalleled power to communicate with people has brought scientists up short.

The bird, a captive African grey called N'kisi, has a vocabulary of 950 words, and shows signs of a sense of humour.

He invents his own words and phrases if he is confronted with novel ideas with which his existing repertoire cannot cope - just as a human child would do.

N'kisi's remarkable abilities feature in the latest BBC Wildlife Magazine.

N'kisi is believed to be one of the most advanced users of human language in the animal world.

About 100 words are needed for half of all reading in English, so if N'kisi could read he would be able to cope with a wide range of material.

Polished wordsmith
He uses words in context, with past, present and future tenses, and is often inventive.

One N'kisi-ism was "flied" for "flew", and another "pretty smell medicine" to describe the aromatherapy oils used by his owner, an artist based in New York.

When he first met Dr Jane Goodall, the renowned chimpanzee expert, after seeing her in a picture with apes, N'kisi said: "Got a chimp?"

He appears to fancy himself as a humourist. When another parrot hung upside down from its perch, he commented: "You got to put this bird on the camera."

Dr Goodall says N'kisi's verbal fireworks are an "outstanding example of interspecies communication".

In an experiment, the bird and his owner were put in separate rooms and filmed as the artist opened random envelopes containing picture cards.

Analysis showed the parrot had used appropriate keywords three times more often than would be likely by chance.

Captives' frustrations
This was despite the researchers discounting responses like "What ya doing on the phone?" when N'kisi saw a card of a man with a telephone, and "Can I give you a hug?" with one of a couple embracing.

Professor Donald Broom, of the University of Cambridge's School of Veterinary Medicine, said: "The more we look at the cognitive abilities of animals, the more advanced they appear, and the biggest leap of all has been with parrots."

Alison Hales, of the World Parrot Trust, told BBC News Online: "N'kisi's amazing vocabulary and sense of humour should make everyone who has a pet parrot consider whether they are meeting its needs.

"They may not be able to ask directly, but parrots are long-lived, and a bit of research now could mean an improved quality of life for years."

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