Skype has changed how we keep in touch with the people who are important to us. Though, it’s not just people, we’ve also seen dogs communicate with each other on Skype. Recently, we decided to take it a step further and attempt interacting with a highly intelligent African Grey Parrot over Skype.
We reached out to two of the country’s foremost experts on African Grey Parrots, Dr. Irene Pepperberg and Maggie Wright. Doctor Pepperberg is a research scientist and lecturer at Harvard. She does groundbreaking animal intelligence research and wrote Alex & Me, the famed memoir of her relationship with her African Grey. Maggie Wright modestly calls herself “just a plain old bird mom” but in fact has started the global parrot community site, www.africangreys.com and authored the definitive African Grey Parrots book.
Check out Maggie’s parrot, Merlin, imitating other animals on Skype:
We learned more about this amazing animal during a Skype call to Dr. Pepperberg and Maggie Wright in Arizona:
What are the challenges to get an African Grey Parrot to interact on Skype versus, say, a dog?
Dr. Pepperberg: African Greys are one generation out of the rainforest. Dogs have over ten thousand years of domestication. Dogs are eager to please. Parrots are… not. They have their own agenda. But they’re intelligent. They have the brain of a five-year-old human and communicate at level of a two-year-old.
What’s most important thing you’ve learned about animals from having a relationship with an African Grey Parrot?
Dr. Pepperberg: You might expect this level of intelligence in apes or dolphins, but it is surprising in a parrot. The whole notion of being a “bird brain” is so false. Animals don’t have to look like us to be intelligent or even have large brains to be smart.
What’s most important thing you’ve learned about humans from having a relationship with an African Grey Parrot?
Maggie Wright: To relax. To act childlike. To play. To be calm. My parrot Merlin taught me how to relax. I was a phobic child after the death of my mother and Merlin helped me to transform as an adult.
Any advice for people who want to adopt an African Grey?
Dr. Pepperberg: Make sure you have a lifestyle that allows you to be very present. Having an African Grey is like having a child who never grows up.
Maggie Wright: Once you become attached to an African Grey Parrot, it changes your life. They reflect our emotions and energy. It is an amazing relationship, but you have to be very dedicated.
Dr. Pepperberg: Also, please buy from a respectable breeder. You don’t want an imported, traumatized bird.