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February 2019 by V. R. Duin


“She's perfect”, said Lucy with a great big smile.
“But to teach her to talk will take a while.”
They named their noisy parrot Dolly.
Lucy was thrilled that the name rhymed with Molly.

While parrots are smart with bird brains that let them speak with meaning, Dolly the Parrot questions how this can help people learn what is smarter than a talking bird.

Bird Brains and People

“Bird Brains” have been given bad meaning. The expression is used to describe a people of sub-standard intelligence and with annoyingly shallow opinions, beliefs and language capabilities, information sets or experiences.

Parrots are intelligent. African Grey and Blue Fronted Amazons rank highly for speaking quality. Compare the size of a parrot's head to its body. It is of genius proportion. Brain size is an indicator of brainpower.

Reasoning Powers? Dr. Irene Pepperberg studied avian cognition. Observations of parrot Alex led this scientist to spearhead conservation efforts. Alex processed abstract communication and spoke with meaning.

Natural Selection? Birds are advanced relatives of reptiles and amphibians. While parrots may not perform as well as chimpanzees on memory tests, Dr. Pepperberg's model/rival technique may conquer human learning disabilities.

Luminaries? A talking parrot does not just mimic words. They copy sounds, whistles and laughter. They can sort objects and images by shape and color. Businesses use animal-talent agents to find perfect feathered actors.

Screen Test? Intelligence tests exist for birds. Studies show team players to be smarter than lone counterparts. Parrots may opt to be contrary or silent rather than answer. They have independent minds, instincts and purposes.

Calling the Shots? Birds symbolize freedom and creativity, which may keep them from ranking as highly among people as “man's best friend”. Training may help pets and owners interact with greater empathy and understanding.

Sheer Luck? Parrots, hummingbirds and songbirds are vocal learners. Avian cognition tests are incomplete. There are no tests to identify which animal species are smarter than others. What matters is quick-witted survival.

Fine Focus? Attention helps learning. It takes a lot of time, patience and treats to prepare for camera-ready or live performances. A warm bond and care for the animal's special needs goes into developing the skills of a star.

Whistle blowers? Parrots make many different sounds. Some bird owners, bird lovers and bird breeders complain of avian noises. They have tired of the constant screeches, squawks, whistles, chirps and verbalizations.

About Face? Some owners wish they could undo speech lessons or think another pet might be smarter. What they really may need is something quiet, like a fish. Dreams of chirping birds are said to mean joy and harmony.

Contributors? Birds deserve credit for sound variety and choice. Elephants have huge brains. They understand, but cannot vocalize human languages. Parrots decipher emotions, build vocabularies and express thoughts.

Craft Work? Birds solve problems to reach goals. They can be trained to perform properly on command. They have the intelligence to independently accomplish goals. For example, birds navigate without equipment or maps.

All the Angles? Parrots vocalize shapes, colors, people and objects by name. They are adept with the use of tools. Tools improve the abilities provided to them by nature and facilitate the performance of necessary tasks.

Working Order? Birds dig with sticks and open nuts by pounding. They work in flocks. They differentiate friends from foes. Unlike dolphins, parrots may not recognize themselves in mirrors, but they enjoy the reflections.

Glow-Getters? Squawking parrot toys are favored. Octopuses may prefer some people over others. Animals have different preferences and reactions to conditions, objects, sounds, activities, individuals and other species.

Structured Environment? Praise, treats and consistency of instruction aid training. It helps to start with simple words and lessons. Different birds prefer different rewards. Preferences may be displays of intelligence.

Dealer's Choice? Learning may come faster when rewarded. The treats may be different, but animals strive to please their handlers. It is important to support behavior and provide feedback for efforts with desired outcomes.

Glory Daze? Training is exhausting. New goals can be added once expectations are satisfied. Each lesson should end well. This type of performance-based training also is employed in human education.

Island Time? Training provides stimulation and discipline. There must be positivity. It is therapeutic to forge relations between learners and trainers. Birds help people appreciate projected outputs and understand nature.

Good Meaning? Birds and nests represent health and family stability. Like any team member, parrots may need no push to perform. The evolution from noise to high-level speech may track human skill development.

It all stacks up? Parrots live long lives. Their learning process is long and slow. They stay with their family for up to one year. Chicks cannot survive independently. They must develop a foundation to survive to adulthood.

Rain Dates? Birds acquire knowledge and skills. They remember harvest seasons and food locations. They hide and find food. They feel coming storms and ambient changes. They assimilate and adapt to the living world.

Starlet? Animals treated like stars may become stars. Cornell University Lab of Ornithology applies evidence-based science and conservation-oriented research to involve communities in management of avian biodiversity.

Not my job? Birds serve as a bridge between freedom of the sky and ties to the world. Parrots avoid work. To rest and have fun, they may prefer to have someone deliver their food. Smart people often delegate work to others.

Directors: Cut! The rhythms of dance and a musical beat do not evade avian species. All genres of music may not appeal to them. Some genres may be upsetting and disruptive. Others may have calming effects.

Block Chain? Birds understand simple math. Rough counts show when they are outnumbered, eggs are missing and food is ample. People count Dolly's skills, talents, creativity, charisma and calculate her “it factor”.