Alex the Counting Parrot Was Even Smarter Than Everyone Thought


You may already know about Alex the gray parrot, the subject of a 30 year investigation into avian cognition. The study showed that the bird was just as smart as any chimp. But the results of his final study, completed before his death in 2007, show that he may have been even smarter than we had ever imagined.

The study was designed to further examine two of Alex's cognitive abilities. The first involved adding Arabic numerals, the second required Alex to sum three sets of objects (as opposed to two, as in previous studies) presented one after the other. In this second experiment, objects were shown to Alex and immediately hidden under a cup—in other words, it was on Alex to pay attention to the items presented to him, remember their quantities, perform the summation, and then vocally describe the exact total quantity.

In the first task, he was able to select the correct answer 9 out of 12 times; in the second, he got the answer right 8 out of 10 times. The only other animal who has demonstrated similar abilities was a chimp named Sheba, who could sum sets up to a total of four. Alex could do them up to six—now that's one smart bird.