The smartest parrot is an African Grey called Griffin

GrifThe Smartest Parrot – Griffin

Griffin is the smartest parrot and works together on various research project with Dr. Irene Pepperberg. In this latest study Griffin was able to pick up a triangle from an obscure shape. In the experiment Griffin looks at a Kanizsa triangle, which is an optical illusion made up of three Pac-Man figures facing each other and he doesn’t just see three figures covering each other. He sees a triangle. To many of us this may not sound significant but let’s not forget that Griffin is a parrot and his visual system is vastly different from that of humans. This study shows that parrots may process visual information in a similar way to humans and that Griffin is certainly one of the smartest parrots.

“There are 300 million years of evolution that separate us,” Pepperberg said. “Just anatomically, Griffin’s brain is very different from ours. Despite that, these data suggests he is solving these critical survival problems – like avoiding predators and finding food – in ways that are very similar to those of humans.”

The experiment not only reveals how smart parrots are but could also offer important guidance for fields like artificial intelligence.
“This is important, particularly in the context of our understanding of deep learning,” Nakayama said (Edgar Pierce Professor of Psychology). “These algorithms can do astonishing things, but they’re very brittle in the sense that they can make terrible mistakes that you and I would never make. We’ve never really tested a human or a machine with this type of test… and if this animal with relatively primitive brain can perform this task, there may be something here that needs to be explored.

Griffin was also able to identify other occluded shapes such as – one, two, three, four, five and six-sided Kanizsa figures.

The preparation

The first step in testing whether Griffin could recognise occluded shapes was for Dr Pepperberg to teach him to recognise shapes in the first place. To do that, Irene and students used wooden blocks and thought Griffin shapes based on the number of corners. For example when shown a square, he eventually would respond by saying “four”.

Whilst Griffin was trained using 3-D wooden shapes the obscure shapes were simply printed on paper. The ability for him to recognise the Kanizsa shape suggests that Griffin understood the relationship between the two different methods.

“He was able to recognise that this flat piece of paper represented the square block on which he was trained,” Pepperberg said. The experiment was performed with 1 – 6 corners per object and different colours, sizes and objects were used and a trial was never repeated twice.


This is just one example of how smart our feathered friends are and emphasises on the need to keep them occupied all the time, as well as physically and mentally challenged. Always make sure that your bird has access to foraging, puzzle, preening and shredding parrot toys. Also do make sure to rotate the toys on a weekly basis. Novelty (interest) wears out and if using the same toy over and over your parrot may lose interest.

This article was first published in the journal Cognition.

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