WALTHAM, Mass. – A gifted parrot that could count to six, identify colors and even express frustration with repetitive scientific trials has died after 30 years of helping researchers better understand the avian brain.
The death of Alex, an African Grey parrot, left scientists at Brandeis University feeling as if they'd lost a colleague.
"It's devastating to lose an individual you've worked with pretty much every day for 30 years," scientist Irene Pepperberg told The Boston Globe. "Someone was working with him 8 to 12 hours every day of his life."
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Alex's advanced language and recognition skills revolutionized the understanding of the avian brain.
After Pepperberg bought Alex from an animal shop in 1973, the parrot learned enough English to identify 50 different objects, seven colors, and five shapes.
He could count up to six, including zero, was able to express desires, including his frustration with the repetitive research.
He also occasionally instructed two other parrots at the lab to "talk better" if they mumbled, though it wasn't clear if he was simply mimicking researchers.
Pepperberg said Alex hadn't reached his full cognitive potential and was demonstrating the ability to take distinct sounds from words he knew and combine them to form new words. Just last month he pronounced the word "seven" for the first time.
The cause of Alex's death was unknown. The African Grey parrot's average life span is 50 years, Pepperberg said. She said Alex was discovered dead in his cage Friday morning.
Pepperberg said she waited to release the news until Monday so grieving researchers could get over the shock and talk about it.
Pepperberg said the last time she saw Alex on Thursday, they went through their goodnight routine, in which she told him it was time to go in the cage and said: "You be good, I love you. I'll see you tomorrow."
Alex responded, "You'll be in tomorrow."