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:

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.

African greys on beach set

Inside Dr. Pepperberg’s Lab: Fun Fundraising Featuring The Parrots

Devising new ways to test parrots’ cognitive skills is the exciting part of Dr. Irene Pepperberg and her staff’s work. The challenging part is finding the exact words to sum up a study — and the even more challenging part is finding creative ways to inspire people to donate to help fund the lab’s research. Fortunately, the parrots can usually be relied upon to “lend a wing” to the cause. African grey Griffin and his fellow greys have been going on epic “outings” to inspire donors to flock to the lab’s Facebook and Tumbler pages.

African grey parrot given choice of cups with rewards

Inside Dr. Pepperberg’s Lab: Do Parrots Understand “Process of Elimination?”

Process of elimination and inference are two powers of reasoning, and Dr. Pepperberg conducted fascinating tests to determine the existence of inference in African greys.

Dr Pepperberg and African grey parrot

Inside Pepperberg’s Lab: Do Parrots Engage In Cooperative Behavior?

Will African grey parrots share food or ask humans for help? The latest experiments at Dr. Pepperberg’s lab give some interesting answers!

dr. irene pepperberg

Parrots In Need & War Veterans Bond At Serenity Park

  My topic this month is quite a bit different than usual. Rather than a report of the activities of the parrots in the Pepperberg Lab, it revolves around a visit I took to a very interesting place just about two years ago. The place is called Serenity Park, and it is the subject of […]

African grey parrot on a perch

Inside Dr. Pepperberg’s Lab: Do Parrots Understand Probability?

To test a parrot’s ability to understand probability, Dr. Irene Pepperberg’s cognitive behavior research lab recently presented African grey parrot Griffin with a task similar to what a 6-8 year-old child might be tasked to do — using three of one item and one of another, if one item was removed, what was the removed item likely to be? Griffin’s answers might surprise you.

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Inside Dr. Pepperberg’s Research Lab: “What’s Mine is Mine and What’s Yours is Mine”

“What’s mine is mine and what’s your is mine.” Does this sum up your feathered friend’s antics? Dr. Irene Pepperberg explains not only how this parrot quirk is based on natural behavior, but she also shares how we can use it to our advantage in the home.

African grey, African grey parrot, grey parrot

Inside Pepperberg’s Lab: African Grey Griffin Speaks His Mind

As companion animals, parrots are unique in that they can use human language to verbally communicate with us. Dr. Irene Pepperberg knows first-hand the advantages of working with such communicative subjects. African grey Griffin, for example, can verbalize requests to Dr. Pepperberg and her research assistants, such as when he wants to go back to the cage (“Wanna go back”) or sit with them (“Wanna go chair”). But this command of words also creates some interesting dilemmas on how to talk in front of a parrot that understands what you are saying.

african grey parrot

Inside Dr. Pepperberg’s Lab: Prepping For A Film Crew Visit

Inviting a film crew into a research lab devoted to the study of cognitive behavior in parrots involves not only prepping the lab, but the parrots and the filmmakers. Dr. Irene Pepperberg shares her account of having a film crew join her in the lab.

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