Retrospectacle: A Neuroscience Blog

I never knew there were such things as “orinithological quiz bowls,” but apparently there are and the final question in one at Arizona State had to do with my favorite bird!

“Who is Alex?”

With the correct answer to that question, the team of Melissa Meadows, Matthew Toomey, and Bobby (Haralambos) Fokidis, all graduate students in the School of Life Sciences, won the inaugural quiz bowl at the fourth North American Ornithological Conference, held in Veracruz, Mexico.

The conference was the largest ornithological meeting in history and was attended by scientists from across the Americas. Each member of this three-student team from ASU was awarded a pair of Audubon Equinox binoculars. The prize was perfect for the avid and knowledgeable birders, since Meadows’ old pair had been stolen, and Fokidis also indicated he was in dire need of new binoculars, too.

So who is Alex? He’s an African Grey parrot who can label seven colors, count up to six objects, and has featured prominently in the debate over whether or not animals can “think.”

Booo to the “thinking” part though. Even squid “think” in some sense (PZ might argue that sense is higher than I would attribute), if thinking means problem solving and reacting to stimuli. Perhaps a better term would have been communicate. More importantly, I noticed that this conference was in Mexico. Um, sign me up for next year!

i-ed1bc5141e50b9dc158a253e8a84a9b7-big parrot2.bmp
Get those janky binoculars outta my face fool.


  1. #1 coturnix
    January 5, 2007

    Have you heard of N’Kisi? Is it real?

  2. #2 John Huizinga
    January 5, 2007
  3. #3 Shelley Batts
    January 5, 2007

    What’s with the surge of interest in N’kisi lately? I swear I’ve been getting a swarm of emails in the past month regarding him, but its all that same BBC story from 2003. Glad people are emailing me, just curious if something had happened…..

  4. #4 Mustafa Mond, FCD
    January 5, 2007

    What a dumb question. I know several Alexes, none of whom are parrots. The question is way too ambiguous.

  5. #5 Shelley Batts
    January 5, 2007

    I can’t imagine there’s too many *birds* named Alex. 🙂 Well, at least not ones that would be brought up in a quiz bowl.

  6. #6 Roy
    January 5, 2007

    Yeah, “think” seems to be a bit… off. It seems to me that thought occurs in pretty much anything with a brain. How complex the thoughts are is up in the air, but that’s thinking, yeah?

    It could be “communicate” that they’re driving at, but I’m not sure that’s the full extent, either. Maybe something more like “complex reasoning” or something?

    Great picture, btw. I find it almost unsettling, though- it’s like he’s staring into my very soul.

  7. #7 Shelley Batts
    January 5, 2007

    Actually, a little-known fact about Greys is that they *can* see stright into your soul. Pepper says you’ve been naughty, Roy.

  8. #8 Mustafa Mond, FCD
    January 5, 2007

    I’m safe from that. I sold my soul last week for a free DVD.
    I deny the holy spirit.

  9. #9 Roy
    January 5, 2007

    Gah! Stay out of my mind!

    Besides, I’ve only been naughty with good cause.

    A DVD for your soul?
    I’d think you could get more than that. Did you at least get something good for it? Maybe something form the Criterion Collection?

  10. #10 John Huizinga
    January 5, 2007

    I think the recent surge in interest in N’Kisi may be because that same 2004 article was recently featured on scitechdaily:
    (about 8 items down in the Features and Background column until they add more)

    At least that’s where I picked it up from. It’s possible the folks over at Scitechdaily may have been alerted to the article form somewhere else…

  11. #11 RPM
    January 5, 2007

    You’re now the second michiganer (michiganite? michiganashun?) who’s used the word “janky”. ‘Sup with that?

  12. #12 Shelley
    January 5, 2007

    You call me a Michigander again and I’ll have to cap you. Fair warning.

New comments have been disabled.