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:

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.

African grey parrot Alex

Inside Pepperberg’s Lab: Vocal Turn-Taking In Parrots

Do birds take turns when conversing or is this a uniquely human skill? Dr. Irene Pepperberg addresses birds’ use of “countersinging” and “duets” as forms of vocal communication.

Let’s Talk About The Weather: Parrots & Rainstorms

Dr. Pepperberg dishes on how her birds, African greys Griffin and Athena, and Alex before them, have noticeably different reactions to inclement weather. She also reveals that some wild birds have a special pressure-sensitive organ that makes them particularly in tune with barometric pressure.

grey parrot

Do Parrots Understand What You Are Saying?

Can birds understand what their people are saying and/or understand what he or she is saying? Dr. Irene Pepperberg says the answer depends on the type of interactions parrots have with their owners. Discover how the way you interact with your feathered companion, as well as flock dynamics, can influence parrot communication.

African grey

Pepperberg’s Lab: African Greys Get a Skyline View

Dr. Pepperberg takes us inside her Harvard lab, where African grey parrots Griffin and Athena call home. We also get a look at their cushy temporary quarters on the building’s eighth floor, complete with a breathtaking view of the Boston skyline. The panoramic view comes with potential visual encounters with a pair of red-tailed hawks—see how the greys react.

Pepperberg’s Lab: When Parrots Go “Off-Script”

Dr. Pepperberg’s work with parrots revolves around reproducing behaviors using scientific methods to attain statistical significance. Of course, parrots being parrots, there are plenty of incidents where one of her African greys says or does something that perfectly captures their mood or preference, but which cannot be scientifically documented. African grey Griffin, like Alex before him, certainly knows how to get his point across to Pepperberg and her research students. See how these anecdotes provide interesting insights into how the mind of a parrot may work.

African grey parrot

Inside Dr. Pepperberg’s Lab: When Favored Treats Aren’t Enough

What happens when a parrot is asked to repeat a task over and over …will the prospect of receiving a favorite treat be enough to keep him going? Or do parrots, even when lavishly rewarded, reach their boiling point? See how African grey parrot Griffin fared when tasked with verbally labeling the same objects repeatedly during the course of several days.

African grey haedshot

Inside Dr. Pepperberg’s Lab: Why Study Parrot Cognition?

Studies of nonhuman cognition have made, and continue to make, major contributions to our understanding of the origins and evolution of human cognitive processes, and much more. Parrot cognition studies in particular have a positive impact on pet bird care, conservation, child cognitive therapies, and even artificial intelligence. See what drives Dr. Irene Pepperberg’s passion for parrot research.

African grey

Inside Pepperberg’s Lab: Mutual Exclusivity In Parrots — A Special Case Of Inference

Dr. Irene Pepperberg tests African grey parrot Griffin’s cognitive skills, going beyond the concept of “inference by exclusion” to the trickier concept of mutual exclusivity (ME). Would Griffin understand that an object could, for example, be both “green” and “wool,” or “blue” and “wood?”

yellow crown amazon parrot

How Good is a Parrot’s Long-Term Memory?

How well do parrots remember situations, other parrots, and people over the course of their long lives? Dr. Pepperberg, gives us a rundown on research that points to parrots as having brain areas that function in ways similar to the human cortex, and how their extremely high neural densities enable advanced cognitive processing—which requires good memory.

African Grey Parrot on a perch

Inside Pepperberg’s Lab: Putting Parrots’ Inferential Knowledge To The Test

When her colleagues at Harvard questioned Dr. Irene Pepperberg’s 2-cup test success that showed parrots are capable of inferential knowledge to make decisions, Pepperberg and students at her cognitive behavior research lab upped the ante from the 2-cup test to 3- and 4-cup tests. They once again put African grey Griffin to the test. See how Griffin fared, especially when a coveted Skittle treat reward was at stake.

African grey parrot

Inside Pepperberg’s Lab: Fish &  Parrots  Outperform Apes & Monkeys

If you put parrots (specifically, African grey parrots), fish, monkeys and apes to the test on who could figure the fastest way to procure two rewards instead of one, who would come out on top? Dr. Pepperberg and friends of her cognitive behavior research lab recently modeled a test for her flock to see how they would fair in a choice-themed task inspired by wrasse fish, and tested on primates as well.

african grey training

Inside Dr. Pepperberg’s Lab: African Grey Parrots Show Self-Control

  Grey parrots may sometimes be impulsive—think about how often you may have had to give your bird multiple timeouts for the same behavior (like chewing on your sunglasses) in a very short time period. However, my students and I have shown that our parrot, Griffin, can actually exhibit quite a bit of self-control. We […]

African grey portrait

Inside Pepperberg’s Lab: Why Parrots Play Favorites

Dr. Pepperberg notes that she and her staff at her cognitive behavior research lab haven’t noticed a one-person tendency among her flock of birds; but she has experienced the avian equivalent of the “cold shoulder” from time to time. Get a glimpse of how flock dynamics can fluctuate in the wild and how parrots’ natural instincts might affect their behavior in the home.

African grey

Inside Dr. Pepperberg’s Lab: When Parrots Speak Their Mind…Or Not

If you are the director of a world-famous animal cognitive behavior research lab, what do you do when your feathered diva doesn’t follow directions? Dr. Irene Pepperberg and her assistants start by having African grey Athena watch her flockmate Griffin perform a requested task with the hope that she’ll be inspired to model his behavior. When that fails, see how Athena has her own way of proving just how smart parrots are.

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