Still Life With Parrots? Alex and Me (and Chili)

As you get older, you appreciate that you do not have the magic crystal ball to tell you the details of your future.  Knowing your future could cause you undue stress as you try to justify why that particular detail is just not going to work for your life.  Therefore, I’m grateful that I didn’t know 18 months ago that I’d be living with a parrot.

I admit I might have harbored a couple of thoughts that living with a parrot might be a pain in the butt.  This was not based on any real life experience, but just like I don’t want to own a monkey, or a boa constrictor, parrots were not in my horizon.  However, then comes life.  And after years of singledom, a real mate, who has some pretty good qualities… and you like him a lot.  And he comes with a parrot named Chili.  So you give it a try and life brings you some surprises.

Chili is an orange-winged Amazon parrot.  He’s single, early 40s, and pretty low maintenance.  He works out daily and is in very buff condition for his age.  He has a great attitude and starts each morning with a round of positive affirmations that include:

  • Hello!
  • Good Morning!
  • Hi, Chili!
  • I’m a pretty bird!
  • I’m a good boy!
  • I love you!

Chili enjoys music and conversation.  He loves to laugh and he’s a great whistler.  Not only does he communicate with a loud wolf whistle or a “Hey, Baby” when he thinks you look great – but he can also serenade you with various musical snippets from 1970s TV shows such as  The Dukes of Hazzard or Three’s Company.  He can change his voice and sometimes we think he is channeling satellite signals.  That is when he talks a blue streak with a voice that sounds vaguely like the local TV cable station that repeatedly recites wind velocity and other weather conditions for pilots.  This is when you have to listen closely as Chili’s vocabulary skills are at their highest.  The other day in a string of rapid-fire sentences, I did make out “can I call you back” as part of the 3 minute soliloquy.  I have to admit, it tugs at my heart when he says “Hi, Julie.”  My dog can’t do that!

To understand better how these feathered guys can capture your heart, please read Alex & Me: How a Scientist and a Parrot Uncovered a Hidden World of Animal Intelligence – and Formed a Deep Bond in the Process by Dr. Irene M. Pepperberg.  This excellent book captures the life of Alex, an African Grey parrot, who became a media star of Pepperberg’s studies regarding the possibility of animal intellect.  Alex communicated with a vocabulary containing over a hundred words, solved puzzles, simple mathematical equations, and even used painstaking phonetic pronunciation to try and instruct the humans about what he wanted (“I want a nut.  Nnn-uh-tuh”).

Unfortunately, Alex passed away unexpectedly in 2007 at the young age of 31.  I remember hearing the story on National Public Radio and the national news.  The New York Times, Nature, and The Guardian all published articles about Alex.  What I didn’t know was that his obituary was even printed in The Economist  – how cool is that!

Here are links to learn more about Alex and Dr. Pepperberg:

The Alex Foundation:  http://www.alexfoundation.org/index2.html
CNN YouTube video:  http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=c4gTR4tkvcM
The Economist Obituary:  http://www.economist.com/obituary/displaystory.cfm?story_id=9828615

 Now, I must rejoin Chili, he’s busy completing his Sudoku puzzle…

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2 responses to “Still Life With Parrots? Alex and Me (and Chili)

  1. Great blog, Julie! Enjoyed reading about your other mate Chili. Your story reminds me of a book I read this past Christmas – Crichton’s “NeXt”. The book has an African Grey, Gerard, – who is like most parrots – except for one little detail. He happens to be a transgenic pet.

    Your detailing of Chili’s responses and interaction reminded me of how cool a character Gerard is in NeXt.

    Nice post….

    David

    • Thanks, David, I will have to check out that book! Something new everyday living with Chili. Last night he said something about washing your curds – whatever the heck that means!

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