Test Your Knowledge
Pepperberg and I walked to the back of the room, where Alex sat on top of his cage, preening his pearl gray feathers. He stopped at her approach and opened his beak.
“Want grape,” Alex said.
“He hasn’t had his breakfast yet,” Pepperberg explained, “so he’s a little put out.”
Alex closed his eyelids halfway, hunched his shoulders, and looked at her. His narrowed eyelids and hunch made him look crabby.
“Don’t look at me like that,” Pepperberg said to him. “See, I can do it, too.” She narrowed her eyes and gave him a stony look, imitating his expression. Alex responded by bending his head and pulling at the feathers on his breast.
To me, she said, “He’s in a bad mood because he’s molting, and sometimes when he’s like that he won’t work.” She spoke to Alex again, “You’ll get your breakfast in a moment.”
“Want wheat,” Alex said.
Arlene Levin-Rowe, the lab manager, handed Pepperberg a bowl of grapes, green beans, apple and banana slices, shredded wheat, and corn on the cob. Pepperberg held up the sliced fruits and vegetables for Alex, who seized them with his beak. Sometimes he held them with a claw and tore them into smaller bits. If he didn’t want something, like the green beans, he said, “Nuh,” meaning “No.” It was an emphatic “Nuh”—short, and decisive. His voice had a slightly nasal and digitized quality, but it was also tinny and sweet, like the voice of a cartoon character. It made you smile.