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Parrot's oratory stuns scientists

 

By Alex Kirby

BBC News Online environment correspondent

 

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, which are said to include telepathy, 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.

 

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.

 

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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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.

 

Fascinating, but I'm going to have to see this part peer reviewed before I buy it. Human examples of the same thing have been proven to be the results of poor test controls and other errors that led to the idea that the results were somehow better than random. If he or anyone else really has esp why don't they get all the answers right?

 

Anyway, that was just a distraction from the other issue, which is quite interesting indeed.

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Agreed with Vigile... if it is true than it's cool stuff indeed, but I have my doubts... :scratch:

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I saw a show with Jane Goodall that featured this parrot. They had a biologist come in and run the "telepathy" experiment. The parrot got something like 23/72 pictures correct, and ones where he mentioned the correct topic but not action were thrown out. Impressive, but not convincing.

 

What is convincing to me is that at least African Greys can use human language and understand it to some degree. This bird literally had conversations with it's owner, and they weren't rehearsed. My wife owns two conures, and I must say they seem to understand more of what is going on than our other pets. They kiss when they want to cuddle, and click and hang upsidedown when they want to play, and they generally are just very smart. It took Tommy no time at all to learn to kiss, say hello, and growl on command. Parrots learn tricks much faster than dogs.

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