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, MA, where her research lab is located. You can help Dr. Pepperberg continue the groundbreaking parrot research she began more than 30 years with Alex, the African grey parrot that 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 http://alexfoundation.org and click on the “Support Us” link for more information.

Articles by Irene:

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.

African grey, grey parrot, African grey parrot

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.

African grey parrot

How Dr. Pepperberg Chooses What Topics To Study

The inspirations for topics of Dr. Pepperberg’s African grey studies come from many different sources, and all add up to fascinating information being revealed.

African grey parrot Athena drinking grape juice

Inside Pepperberg’s Lab: Parrots’ Cognitive Abilities Put To The Liquid Test

After a certain age, children are able to understand conservation of amounts. Can birds also understand that a change in shape might not change the amount?

Blue fronted Amazon eating

Dr. Pepperberg Dishes: Will Parrots Work For Food?

Studies point to an interesting fact: Working for food rewards parrots with more than just food to eat. Find out what this means.

African grey parrot

Inside Pepperberg’s Lab: African Grey Athena’s Antics

Our youngest bird, Athena, can present some interesting challenges to our research. We sometimes joke that she doesn’t have an “off switch.”

African grey parrot Athena drinking grape juice

Inside Pepperberg’s Lab: Catering to Parrots’ Tastes

Dr. Pepperberg reveals some unconventional, and unsung, activities needed to get data from the African grey parrots in her lab.

African grey parrot

Why Parrots Are So Smart

In recent decades, studies are revealing how birds’ brains work. Learn how their brains are similar and different from mammal brains, and how different bird types have different brains.

African grey parrot

Pepperberg’s Parrots Surprise With Word Choices

The talkative African grey parrots Dr. Pepperberg works with in her research lab communicate in English, and sometimes they surprise lab staff. See why!

Exercise device for Parrots

Inside Pepperberg’s Lab: Getting Parrots To Exercise

Exercise is particularly important for our parrots, as most conditions in captivity are extremely different from the lives they live in the wild.

African grey parrot on a perch

Inside Dr. Pepperberg’s Lab: Parrot Picture Day

Dr. Pepperberg gives a behind-the-scenes look at the challenges of getting parrots to pose during photo shoots, where props and distractions abound.

Congo African Grey Parrot on a cage

How Dr. Pepperberg Taught Parrots To Use Speech Appropriately

Early on in her behavioral research with Alex the African grey, Dr. Irene Pepperberg began incorporating what she refers to as the model/rival (M/R) system to teach a parrot how to speak and how to use speech appropriately, which also allows the bird to verbally communicate requests.

Dr Pepperberg Griffin

Parrots Find Creative Ways To Delay Bedtime

With cognitive abilities matching that of a 5-6 year old, African grey parrots can likewise come up with some creative distractions to delay bedtime. This month, Dr. Pepperberg gives us a look back at the bedtime antics of Alex the African grey, as well as how current greys Griffin and Athena attempt to throw a wrench in attempts at a good night routine.

African grey parrot on a perch

Parrots Can Play Mind Games

Research with parrots leads to some unexpected results. Some pleasant, like learning words that weren’t trained, and some unpleasant, like acting out.

African Grey Parrot on a perch

Day in the Life of Pepperberg’s Parrots

Curious to know what an average day is like in Dr. Irene Pepperberg’s research lab on the Harvard campus? Here’s a behind-the-scenes look at a day in the life of African greys Griffin and Athena!

African Grey Parrot being pet

Dr. Pepperberg Dishes On Parrots & Preening

Parrots often solicit humans by putting their heads down and rubbing against their humans’ fingers; some will even learn to request “Tickle,” “Scritch,” or “Scratch.” Despite being subjects of scientific study, the birds in my lab are no exception, and they have influenced their trainers’ behavior in some striking ways.

Grey Parrot

New Pepperberg Parrot Research: Recognizing 2d Objects

Dr. Irene Pepperberg, who famously worked with Alex the African grey parrot on documenting parrot intelligence, recently released new research focused on results of her work with African grey parrot Griffin.

African grey parrot

New Pepperberg Research: Can Parrots Share?

Sharing seems to be less common in our nonhuman primate relatives, and appears to occur only under some fairly specific conditions. But what about creatures that are not primates? Our recent studies suggest that African grey parrots also can engage in sharing behavior.

Life After Alex

Five years after Alex’s passing, he is still sorely missed; by me and, I believe, by Griffin and Arthur, the other African grey parrots in my lab. Days still exist, particularly when I return after a long absence, during which I walk into the laboratory, glance at the cage in the far corner of the room, and expect to be greeted by Alex’s familiar, imperious “Come here!”

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