Birds: Smart, Or SCARY Smart?

It’s a new Curiosity Aroused, and in this episode, Skepchick Stacey gives an overview of the science on avian cognition, focusing mostly on the work of Dr. Irene Pepperberg and her African Grey parrot, Alex.

You can listen at (where you can also see show notes), viaRSS, or on iTunes in the culture section. If you are on iTunes, please rate and comment!

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Rebecca Watson

Rebecca leads a team of skeptical female activists at She travels around the world delivering entertaining talks on science, atheism, feminism, and skepticism. There is currently an asteroid orbiting the sun with her name on it. You can follow her every fascinating move on Twitter or on Google+.

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  1. @Jo:
    A “bird training” video described the problem thusly: “Between work, family, friends, entertainment and eating, you have about two hours you can spend concentrating on your bird. Your bird, on the other hand, has about 12 hours with nothing else to do but think of ways to manipulating your behavior to its benefit”.

  2. Good show again! I think a nice skeptic tie in here would be to mention N’Kisi, the same type of bird as Alex, that Rupert “morphogenic fields” Sheldrake touts as having telepathic powers. *roll eyes* The contrast between how Dr. Pepperberg does REAL science and how Sheldrake does his pseudosciency woo dance is striking.

  3. @Magnus H.: I second this proposal. While Dr. Pepperberg has occasionally been taken to task for not following rigorous scientific protocols I still think contrasting university research against wooniversity research would be a good way of promoting science and reason.

  4. Birds became lame when they stopped being dinosaurs. What happened to you, birds? You used to be cool! Except the rook and its close relatives. They kick ass but would still get their asses handed to them by any monkey worth its opposable thumbs.

  5. I disagree with the above poster. In fact, I would go so far as to say that birds are scary, period. They’re always looking at you with just one eye, and then moving their head really, really fast as if to say “hey, human. I have way faster reflexes than you. If I wanted to eat your eyeball, I could do that right now.” I have perfect 20-20 vision but I still wear glasses for this exact reason.

  6. @Rei Malebario: Cladistically speaking, birds never stopped being dinosaurs. They still belong to the line of theropoda.
    I submit that, having survived the apocolypse that wiped out all other dinosaurs, birds have shown that they are the baddest assed mo fo’s of the past 60 million years.
    Eat that monkey lovers!

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