Avian Expert Articles

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

A Very Merry (Un-)Hatchday in CovidLand….

African grey parrots
A little photoshop magic shows what we would have LIKED our party to look like.

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 celebration for our parrots’ hatchdays. Now, I realize that marking such dates has much more to do with human behavioral practices than parrot behavior, but that doesn’t mean that our birds haven’t enjoyed the events!

African grey parrotsCake & Friends

Pre-COVID, we always did something special on a bird’s hatchday. Alex loved carrot cake, so we always made sure that we brought one into lab—he and the other birds would get one sliver each (sans the cream cheese frosting!) and the rest of us would heartily enjoy the remainder. Griffin’s love of apples—“banerry”—and almonds—“corknuts”—led to my lab manager finding a recipe for an incredible masterpiece made mostly of apples and almond flour. Given how much healthier her banerry-corknut cake is compared to commercial carrot cake, the birds could even have more than a sliver. And, given that Athena’s April hatchday is only three days after Griffin’s, we started having a joint celebration. Students who did not have shifts on the birds’ hatchdays would stop by the lab, which meant that many who never overlapped during the semester finally had a chance to socialize. And if we came upon some of the members of our department who were special friends of the parrots, we would invite them in, too, during the day. Given that the birds always have whatever toys they like in their cages, we never made a big deal about things like physical presents, but the way the parrots acted, it really seemed as though having a lot of the “flock” together all at the same time seemed to be a special treat of its own.

A More Intimate Gathering

The last two years, however, have been rather different. Last year, we absolutely could not have more than one person in our space at any one time. So…although we found some nice organic fruit-based bread that the birds could eat, it could be only in the presence of one person, and thanks to COVID, we also could not leave anything around for any of the humans to share. Last year was Griffin’s 25th, and we had really been looking forward to a slightly bigger celebration than usual, but such clearly was not the case.

African grey parrotsFor this year, we thought about some kind of ZOOM event, but everyone is so totally ZOOMed-out, it seemed like it would be more of a chore than an event one would look forward to attending. However, now that about half of our skeleton crew has been fully vaccinated, we can begin to loosen up some of our restrictions, at least a wee bit. So, the birds DID get a home-baked (small!) cake that they and at least one of their human companions shared, with leftovers in the fridge. And we did take a picture and also photoshopped what we would have LIKED our party to look like, posting both the real and imagined “parties” on social media. Not ideal, but…

We are, of course, thankful that everyone in the lab—parrots and people—so far have been healthy and safe, and that there is another hatchday to celebrate. Moreover, we very much look forward to 2022, when we hope that the world will return to normal and when we can have a more traditional—and fun—time for everyone. In the meantime…stay safe!





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

  1. When are you, Dr. Pepperberg, Athena, and Griffin returning?
    We miss all 3 of you so much, it’s just not the same without you 3.
    I hope all of you are safe and well and I had no idea Griffin was
    that age, how time moves on. However, it looks like they’re enjoying their cake and the birds look well. We hope to see all of you very very soon.

  2. My heroine, Irene. Such a treasure in our nasty world. Your observers, like us, still miss Alex, so can only somewhat grasp your loss. Impressed you love this pair!

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