Parrots used to be thought of simply as good mimics. Rather than being considered amazingly intelligent, their ability to amuse, via copying human speech and sounds, led to them being associated with entertainment rather than their cognitive and communication abilities being explored. Since then, its been discovered that parrots, and particularly the African Grey, are complex creatures who display intelligence, as well as the ability to communicate in other forms other than mimicking human beings.
Associate Professor of Ecology and Evolutionary Biology, Irene Maxine Pepperberg, successfully helped prove that the African Grey Parrot can communicate to the level we have come to understand great apes can. Her studies, which took place over a twenty-year period, show that parrots have cognitive capabilities far beyond expectations.
Since humans have found out that parrots, not only communicate within their own species, but also with people, their cognitive abilities and intelligence has been highlighted. Two way communication, rather than simply mimicry or nonsensical babble, allows parrots to have a simple discussion of sorts with humans.
The speech capabilities of African Grey parrots have been likened to the abilities a human toddler displays. Pepperberg discovered that they can understand complex speech patterns, and have conviction in what they say, rather than uttering meaningless phrases they do not understand as was once believed.
In Perferbergs studies, parrots showed the ability to understand the differences between different colors, sizes and shapes. They can also learn numbers through from one to six and comprehend the meaning of the word ‘none.’
Roderick Suthers, of Bloomingtons Indiana University, states that the reason parrots have such success in talking can be put down to the fact that they use their tongues to form words, just like humans do. Scientists at the Netherlands Leiden University found that just a tiny difference in position of a parakeets tongue could alter the sound they make.
Apparently, the voice of a parakeet is formed by four distinct formants, otherwise known as sounds. The sounds are frequency ranges that can be heard as they travel along the throat and surrounding areas. Humans also use the same method to communicate verbally.
Recent parrot communication studies have allowed people to see that their amusing featured friends are far more intelligent beings than once suspected. Their ability to form close bonds with humans and regard them as part of their flock, may help people carry on communicating with parrots as they gain further understanding of their cognitive capabilities.