Avian Expert Articles

Irene Pepperberg, Ph.D.

Irene Pepperberg, Ph.D.

Dr. Irene Pepperberg is a lecturer and research associate at Harvard University in Cambridge, Massachusetts, where her research lab is located. You can help Dr. Pepperberg continue the groundbreaking parrot research she began more than 30 years ago with Alex, the African grey parrot who won admirers from around the world with his cognitive abilities.

If you shop online through sites such as Amazon.com, you can designate the Alex Foundation to receive a percentage of your final sales, or register with the Alex Foundation at iGive.com and a percentage of sales from companies associated with iGive will go to the foundation. The Alex Foundation also has a “Donate” button linked to PayPal. Visit The Alex Foundation and click on the “Support Us” link for more information.

Read more about the lab at The Alex Foundation Facebook page and at The Alex Foundation Twitter account.

Articles by Irene:

african grey parrot

Inside Dr. Pepperberg’s Lab: What Goes into Research Design

In her latest blog, Dr. Irene Pepperberg explains how, when working with parrots, designing and implementing seemingly simple experiments are never as easy as one might assume.

African grey parrots

Inside Dr. Pepperberg’s Lab: African Greys Griffin & Athena Celebrate Their Hatchdates

A Very Merry (Un-)Hatchday in CovidLand…. I felt that the title was appropriate, given that (a) everyone I know feels as though they have dropped down a “rabbit hole” this year, into a place as confusing as Alice’s Wonderland, and (b) for the second year in a row we will not be having a traditional […]

African grey parrots

Inside Dr. Pepperberg’s Lab: More on Individual Differences in Parrots

Dr. Irene Pepperberg talks about the individual preferences of the African grey parrots in her cognitive research lab. She also shares why personality differences among the flock oftentimes require using different approaches when it comes to training and testing.

African grey parrot

Inside Dr. Pepperberg’s Lab: Parrots & Vocal Learning

In her latest blog, Dr. Pepperberg explores parrots’ aptitude for vocal learning, specifically how their propensity to be open-ended vocal learners means that, unlike most animal species, they are capable of learning new utterances their entire lives.

African grey

Inside Dr. Pepperberg’s Lab: Some Parrots Dislike Uncertainty & Novelty

Some birds are inclined to be cautious and wary of new things, while others seem to exhibit an immediate curiosity, and still more land somewhere in between. In her latest blog, Dr. Pepperberg discusses the concept of neophobia (dislike of novelty) and neophilia (attraction to novelty), and the degree of which it can vary among bird species. She also dishes on why our companion parrots tend to like consistent schedules.

African greys

Inside Dr. Pepperberg’s Lab: Parrots & People—Relationships Built on Trust

In her latest blog, Dr. Irene Pepperberg dishes on how our feathered companions rely on their humans to not only provide the essentials such as food and water, but, in a broader aspect, a sense of security.

African greys Athena and Griffin

Inside Dr. Pepperberg’s Lab: Giving Thanks to the Caretakers

In her latest blog, Dr. Irene Pepperberg shares her thoughts on the past year as 2020 comes to a close. Despite the often daunting challenges many faced due to COVID, she writes about giving thanks to those in the animal community who stay devoted to their work to give to our beloved pets as well as pets in need care and attention in this time of crisis.

Pepperberg, Alex Foundation

Inside Pepperberg’s Lab: Research Under COVID-Optimal Conditions

Dr. Irene Pepperberg gives us an update on how she is forging ahead despite that challenges posed by COVID-related social distancing requirements and the shutdown of her cognitive behavior research lab on the Harvard campus.

African grey parrot

Inside Dr. Pepperberg’s Lab: Virtual Interactions with Our Parrots

Do parrots dig virtual interactions? Dr. Irene Pepperberg explains why parrots see things a bit different than us when it comes to digital platforms like Zoom, FaceTime and Skype.

African greys

Inside Dr. Pepperberg’s Lab: Did Griffin Stealthily Steal Banana Slices?

In her latest blog, Dr. Irene Pepperberg points out the importance of paying attention to African greys Griffin and Athena’s actions outside of formal cognitive behavior experiments. Case in point, Griffin’s seemingly stealth maneuver to score more of a favorite treat.

African grey parrot Alex

Inside Dr. Pepperberg’s Lab: A Parrot’s Concept Of Same-Different

Dr. Pepperberg revisits a study done decades ago with Alex the African grey that has received renewed interest with recent studies done with children — how well do individuals understand the concept of same-different?

African grey parrot

Inside Pepperberg’s Lab: Do Parrots Show Remorse?

When a prestigious behavior journal welcomed scientists to submit anecdotal observations of nonhuman actions that suggested possible comparisons with those of humans, a recent episode with African grey Griffin sprung to mind. Did Griffin show signs of remorse after delivering an unexpected bite?

African grey

Inside Dr. Pepperberg’s Lab: Can Parrots Win At The Shell Game?

How good are you at the “shell game”… can you follow an object that is shuffled around under shells or cups? Imagine being tested on your ability to track not just one colored object but four! Dr. Irene Pepperberg shares the results of how African grey Griffin’s visual working memory stacks up when compared to adults and children.

African greys

Inside Pepperberg’s Lab: Parrots Adapt During Coronavirus Lockdown

Dr. Irene Pepperberg fills us in on how African greys Griffin and Athena, as well as she and her staff, are handling their “new normal,” albeit hopefully a temporary one. She also dishes on how they found some creative ways to celebrate two big milestones — the birds’ birthdays!

Dr Pepperberg Griffin

Inside Pepperberg’s Lab: Life In The Time Of Coronavirus

What’s an academic science lab to do when e-mails from the administration start popping up stating in-person instruction was to cease immediately, followed by directives to vacate the campus in light of the ongoing COVID-19 crisis? What if said science lab was home to a flock of parrots known around the world for their contributions to the study of cognitive behavior? Dr. Irene Pepperberg and her research assistants found themselves in a scramble to ensure everyone— birds and humans — found safe places to stay. See where everyone is now.

African grey portrait

Comparative Cognition — The Joys & Difficulties

A lot of planning goes into creating ways to test the parrots’ intelligence to see how they perform on tasks compared to the results of those undertaken by children and primates. But what happens when two hands are required to solve a problem? Dr. Pepperberg describes the challenges and possible solutions to an intelligence test to circumvent the fact that parrots are hands-free.

African grey parrot

Inside Dr. Pepperberg’s Lab: Can African Greys Spot Which Container Holds More Liquid?

African grey parrots Athena and Griffin are tasked with the challenge of tracking the larger amount of liquid that is poured into various containers to test their grasp of the concept of “overconservation,” where the experimenter starts with different amounts and tests whether the subjects can track the larger amount after various transformations. See where the parrots succeeded as well as what tended to slip them up on this highly challenging task.

African grey parrots

Friends or Frenemies—How Well Do Parrots Interact with Each Other?

For parrots in the wild, flock dynamics include bonded pairs, siblings, and flockmates who forage for food together, play together, or simply co-exist with one another (and, of course, help keep a lookout for predators). What about companion parrots? Will two parrots get along? Dr. Pepperberg dishes on the interactions among her African grey parrots, as well as explains why it can be challenging so to predict how flock dynamics will play out inside the home.

African grey

Inside Pepperberg’s Lab: Vet Visits Are Essential

Dr. Pepperberg shares her experiences with taking African greys Griffin and Athena (and Alex before them) to the vet for their well-bird health checkups, which, with their verbal communication prowess, has led to some interesting vet interactions.

African grey

Inside Dr. Pepperberg’s Lab: African Grey Athena’s Unexpected Health Issue

Dr. Pepperberg dishes on a recent health scare she experienced with African grey Athena. She gives us a first-hand account of dealing with Athena’s sudden feather issues to remind us that seemingly minor or temporary changes in a parrot’s environment can affect the bird’s health in unexpected ways.

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