Retrospectacle: A Neuroscience Blog

Sad! Alex the Grey Parrot, Dead at 31

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On Friday, I received an email letting me know that the world’s most famous African Grey, Alex, had passed away. For those of you who have read this blog for some amount of time, you probably realize that I was a huge fan of Irene Pepperberg’s work with Alex and even dedicated a weekly series (Friday Grey Matters) to her work. Irene was also kind enough to allow me to interview her and to give a talk at the University of Michigan’s Neuroscience Spring Symposia last May. She is truly a wonderful and extremely bright person, and I’m sure she is devastated. Alex was her companion and colleague for over 30 years.

Although an official press release won’t be issued until Monday, I was given the go-ahead to blog this. Donations in Alex’s memory can go to The Alex Foundation, which will help continue Dr. Pepperberg’s research. The press release should tell us more about the cause of death, which is currently unknown.

Comments

  1. #1 Johan
    September 8, 2007

    Truly sad news.

  2. #2 AgnosticOracle
    September 8, 2007

    I learned it earlier today from another friend’s blog. It is very sad news indeed. I’m making a point to spend more time with my birds this weekend. Goose (our 23 year old African Grey) is getting lots of hand time today.

  3. #3 cyberthrush
    September 8, 2007

    SAD news indeed! I’m sure even after death the decades of compiled research on Alex will continue to instruct us about animal learning and cognition. Heartfelt condolences to Dr. Pepperberg who must feel devastated.

  4. #4 Monty Python
    September 9, 2007

    No, no, ‘e’s uh,…he’s resting.

  5. #5 Charlie (Colorado)
    September 9, 2007

    My God! What happened? Isn’t that quite young for a Gray?

  6. #6 Shelley Batts
    September 9, 2007

    Norweigan Blue. Oh ho. Hilarious. :/

    Charlie: Thanks for your concern. Not sure what happened yet, hopefully the press release coming out on Monday will have a bit more details, if the necropsy is done by then. It *is* young for a Grey. They live 60+ years in captivity, so yeah, quite unexpected.

  7. #7 M
    September 9, 2007

    Oh, no! That’s horrible…why would he die so young? Was he ill, or is this out of the blue?

    What a week…first Pavarotti, now this…

  8. #8 Linda
    September 10, 2007

    Alex certainly seems loved and admired by so many… A premature and sad loss.

  9. #9 Warren
    September 10, 2007

    From the NY Times:

    Even up through last week, Alex was working with Dr. Pepperberg on compound words and hard-to-pronounce words. As she put him into his cage for the night last Thursday, Alex looked at her and said: “You be good, see you tomorrow. I love you.”

    That’s the last thing he said to her. That’s rather sad, but sweet too; and you know, it’s a good thing to remember to say things like that to the other people in your life as well, feathered, furred or bare of skin.

  10. #10 Chromosome Crawl
    September 10, 2007

    What a wonderful thing to have a non-human companion be able to TELL you that they love you. We get very good at reading the non-verbal cues our companions give us, but Alex’s talents are truly amazing!

    (How many of us who have had to euthanize a pet would have loved to have been able to discuss the option with the pet…)

  11. #11 Jon H
    September 10, 2007

    Aw, a little while ago Alex’s obit was more prominent on nytimes.com than the obit for Jane Wyman.

    Now Alex isn’t on the front page anymore.

  12. #12 Warren
    September 10, 2007

    How many of us who have had to euthanize a pet would have loved to have been able to discuss the option with the pet…

    Posted by: Chromosome Crawl

    I think most of us do. In a quiet, nonverbal way.

    That doesn’t make it hurt any less.

    But there is a time when that sweet animal looks at you, and you see the suffering, and you see the plea.

    The idea that non-word-speaking pets are somehow nonvocal or inexpressive is false. And to claim that it’s over-anthropomprphizing to find emotion — hope, fear, sorrow, surrender — in animals is too extremely favoring the clinical, nonconnected attitude.

    The day before I lost Sputnik I cuddled him for a while; and he looked up at me like he always did, and I think he knew; he knew he was at the end; and he let me hold him for ever so long before pulling away and staggering off to be by himself for a while.

    Hold them close, and tell them you love them; even if they don’t or can’t answer in words, the affection is there. It is impossible to hold a warm small life close to your heart … and have that warmth and intimacy not be returned. It is how we evolved. It is how we are.

  13. #13 Deanna
    September 11, 2007

    I am sorry to hear of the news of Alex. My heart goes out to Dr. Pepperberg.

    I lost my best friend, Runt, a pearl grey cockatiel on August 24, 2007. Thirteen years ago my sister’s cockatiels had a nesting box and all but one egg hatched. My sister was going to throw the last egg out but decided to wait one more day. Runt hatched and I asked her for the bird. He lived in 3 homes with me and died of natural causes. Runt called me “Pretty Momma” and would whistle “Happy Birthday” every morning. I have a outdoor birdbath to mark his grave. My grief is deep and just writing this makes me feel better.
    My sister recently lost her 5 year old green parrot due to a tragic accident.

  14. #14 Laura
    September 16, 2007

    Am I wacked? The news of Alex’s death had me disconsolate for hours. The tears still well up when I think about the poor guy. Hopefully, he died before ever knowing what hit him. I’ve been keeping Gee, my gray, very close to me, terrified something will happen. Poor Dr. Irene! She and Alex were together virtually every day for 31 years. I agree that animals have deep feelings. We’ve seen elephants mourning their dead. When I was sick in bed for several days, I would wake up to find my cat sitting on my chest and gazing into my eyes. He’d stay there with me for hours at a time. If that’s not concern, I don’t know what is! By the way, a word to the cynical—he’d already been fed. As for Alex, it’s truly sad we will no longer hear of his latest amazing feat.

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