During the past 24 years, I have used a modeling technique (M/R procedure) to train Grey parrots to use an allospecific code (English speech) referentially; I then use the code to test their cognitive abilities. The oldest bird, Alex, labels more than 50 different objects, 7 colors, 5 shapes, quantities to 6, 3 categories (color, shape, material) and uses ‘no’, ‘come here’, wanna go X’ and ‘want Y’ (X and Y are appropriate location or item labels). He combines labels to identify, request, comment upon or refuse more than 100 items and to alter his environment. He processes queries to judge category, relative size, quantity, presence or absence of similarity/difference in attributes, and show label comprehension. He semantically separates labeling from requesting. He thus exhibits capacities once presumed limited to humans or nonhuman primates. Studies on this and other Greys show that parrots given training that lacks some aspect of input present in M/R protocols (reference, functionality, social interaction) fail to acquire referential English speech. Examining how input affects the extent to which parrots acquire an allospecific code may elucidate mechanisms of other forms of exceptional learning: learning unlikely in the normal course of development but that can occur under certain conditions.
Pepperberg, I. M. (2002). In search of king Solomon’s ring: cognitive and communicative studies of Grey parrots (Psittacus erithacus). Brain, Behavior and Evolution, 59(1-2), 54-67.