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Alex & Me: How a Scientist and a Parrot Uncovered a Hidden World of Animal Intelligence—and Formed a Deep Bond in the Process, by Irene M. Pepperberg, explores the emotional bond between animal and human, and discusses the fascinating science of animal intelligence.

Dr. Pepperberg conducted research on animal cognition and language acquisition with an African Gray parrot named Alex for thirty years. She taught him to speak more than a hundred words and to answer questions that tested his comprehension of what he said. Alex was so famous for his achievements that when he died suddenly in 2007, his obituary appeared in The New York Times.

His death devastated Pepperberg, who had come to be deeply fond of him. After thirty years of documenting her scientific conclusions, she decided to write the personal story of her relationship with this extraordinary bird, for whom she had formed a deep attachment.

Readers have responded strongly to Alex & Me. Our endless interest in the questions of how animals think, what they feel, and how they communicate is captured by Alex's story.

Regular print, large print, audio, and downloadable editions of the book are available at the library.

Excerpt

We were training Alex to sound out phonemes.... We used plastic refrigerator letters, each a different color. We taught him the sounds of the different letters or letter combinations. We would ask him, for example, “What color is ‘ch'?” and “What sound is purple?”...

I showed Alex a tray of his letters. “ Alex, what sound is blue?” I asked.

He answered, “Sss.”

It was an S, so I said, “Good birdie.”

He replied, “Want a nut.”

Because we were pressed for time, I didn't want to waste it with Alex eating nuts. I told him he had to wait, and asked, “What sound is green?”

Alex answered “Ssshh.”

Again, he was right. Again I said, “Good parrot.”

And again Alex said, “Want a nut.”

“Alex, wait,” I said. “What color is ‘or'?”

“Orange.”

“Good bird!”

“Want a nut.” Alex was obviously getting more than a little frustrated. He finally got very slitty-eyed, always a sign he was up to something. He looked at me and said slowly, “Want a nut. Nnn...uh...tuh.”

pp. 177-179

Alex & Me

Is a parrot's speech language? What can a bird brain tell us about animal intelligence? The scientist who studied Alex the parrot tells us what she learned from this remarkable bird.