Conference PaperPDF Available

Avian Enrichment Through Learning



Research demonstrates that parrots are capable of high-level cognitive processing, including inference-by-exclusion, counting, music preference, symbol use, and abstract concept processing. Yet captive parrots also have high levels of stereotypy. Researchers have suggested that enhanced enrichment can include non-traditional learning opportunities with varied learning, motor, attentional and sensory components by way of cognitive challenges that increase in difficulty upon mastery of tasks—as may be demanded in wild settings. While husbandry training remains an essential practice for avian care and welfare, here we explore the use of a variety of cognitive learning enrichment through “kindergarten concept” training as a way to challenge and engage captive parrots through those motor, attentional, sensory, and memory components. Non-traditional enhanced enrichment opportunities may be a resource in addressing the ongoing cognitive enrichment needs of captive parrots and decrease levels of stereotypy.
Jennifer Cunha, J.D.
Parrot Kindergarten, Inc.
BIO: Jennifer Cunha is an attorney who formerly taught inner-city children how to read. With
that experience, she began teaching her cockatoos phonics and reading skills in 2016. Her parrots
demonstrate mastery of grapheme-phoneme correspondence (reading words) and semantic
processing (vocabulary development), three of the tasks required for reading. Jennifer
collaborated with several university researchers to investigate parrots’ choice use with symbols,
grapheme-phoneme correspondence, and semantic processing skills, and the research on these
projects has been submitted for peer review and publication. Jennifer is co-owner of Parrot
Kindergarten, a company focusing on enhanced “kindergarten-style” enrichment and
communication training for parrot caregivers.
Research demonstrates that parrots are capable of high-level cognitive processing, including
inference-by-exclusion, counting, music preference, symbol use, and abstract concept
processing. Yet captive parrots also have high levels of stereotypy. Researchers have suggested
that enhanced enrichment can include non-traditional learning opportunities with varied learning,
motor, attentional and sensory components by way of cognitive challenges that increase in
difficulty upon mastery of tasksas may be demanded in wild settings.
While husbandry training remains an essential practice for avian care and welfare, here we
explore the use of a variety of cognitive learning enrichment through “kindergarten concept”
training as a way to challenge and engage captive parrots through those motor, attentional,
sensory, and memory components. Non-traditional enhanced enrichment opportunities may be a
resource in addressing the ongoing cognitive enrichment needs of captive parrots and decrease
levels of stereotypy.
Avian Cognition
Research demonstrates that parrots are capable of high-level cognitive processing, including
inference-by-exclusion, (O’Hara, Auersperg, Bugnyar, & Huber, 2015; similar to African greys,
e.g., Pepperberg, Koepke, Livingston, Girard, & Hartsfield, 2013; Mikolasch, Kotrschal, &
Schloegl, 2011) counting, music preference, symbol use, and abstract concept processing. While
research on non-human primates spans over a century, comparative research into avian cognition
is much more recent.
Yet replications of non-human primate studies conducted on certain corvids and parrots yield
striking results. Güntürkün, Ströckens, Scarf and Colombo (2017) compared the performance of
primates, corvids and pigeons across a variety of tasks including short-term memory, object
permanence, abstract numerical competence, and orthographic processing and discovered that
pigeons and corvids demonstrated similarly high levels of performance when compared to non-
human primates.
Likewise, Goffin’s cockatoos, African greys, and certain corvids have out-performed seven-to-
ten year old children and even adult gorillas on some complex cognitive tests such as reasoning,
memory, and mental manipulation tasks (Habl & Auersperg, 2017; Pepperberg, Gray, Lesser, &
Hartsfield, 2017; Pepperberg, Gray, Mody, Cornero, & Carey, 2019; Pepperberg & Pailin, 2017).
In this paper I review some of the cognitive capabilities of birds, provide a case study of a Helen
Dishaw and Matilda, a cockatoo, who engaged in cognitive learning enrichment and I will also
provide topic ideas for enhanced enrichment training for birds.
Stereotypy and Enrichment
Perhaps due to their intelligence, captive birds often display stereotypic behavior. Stereotypies
are abnormal repetitive, unvarying, and apparently functionless behaviors that are often
performed by captive and domesticated animals housed in barren environments (Meehan,
Garner, & Mench, 2004). They are believed to be in response to life in a captive environment. In
birds, stereotypies include a variety of oral and locomotive stereotypies including feather-
destruction (“FDB”), pacing, and hanging on cage bars.
Stereotypy rates in parrots are reported as high as 42% in cockatoos and 40% in African greys
(Jayson, Williams, & Wood, 2014) and it is also seen in other parrot species. Some research has
suggested a relationship between lack of enrichment and stereotypy (Garner, Meehan, Famula, &
Mench, 2006). For example, locomotive stereotypy (i.e., route-tracing and cage-hanging) may be
due to lack of space and physical complexity and oral stereotypy may be related to lack of
foraging enrichment.
Orange-wing Amazon parrots raised in a barren environment had much higher rates of
stereotypy than those raised with locomotion- and foraging-based enrichment environments.
(Meehan, Garner, Mench, 2004.) Once the barren-environment raised parrots were relocated to
enriched environments, their rates of stereotypy decreased.
Contemporary researchers have suggested a need for higher levels of cognitive enrichment for
captive animals, beyond traditional methods of environment. Enrichment is traditionally
comprised of foraging opportunities, toys, variety in diet, destructible materials, and sensory
stimulation (such as the radio or television). While they may elicit “natural behaviors,” notably,
contemporary researchers suggest that these yet may not adequately provide mental stimulation
with varied learning, motor, attentional and sensory components by way of cognitive challenges
that increase in difficulty upon mastery of tasksas may be demanded in wild settings (Bennett,
Bailoo, Dutton, Michel, & Pierre, 2018).
These researchers argue that enhanced enrichment using non-traditional modalities including
complex toys, puzzles, and even technology including learning games on computers could
additionally be utilized meet the cognitive needs of captive animals. Here we additionally
suggest that cognitive learning enrichment (“CLE”) training such as math, letters and phonics,
colors, shapes, “family” games, books, and crafts is a simple yet rich and diverse modality for
cognitive stimulation that builds in complexity as tasks are mastered.
CLE concept training methods are also simple, making them accessible to trainers at every level
of experience.
A case study on two cockatoos with a history of FDB demonstrated that twenty minutes of
behavior training five days per week significantly reduced their incidence of oral stereotypy.
Anecdotally, participants in our enhanced enrichment projects and research have reduced and
sometimes extinguished rates of FDB. One bird that was mutilating for seven years stopped
mutilating after CLE. Our participants also report lower rates of fear responses to novel stimuli.
Abstract Learning and Symbol Use
Cognitive learning enrichment lessons are comprised of simple abstract learning sessions,
sensory enrichment, motor skill development, and the use of symbols, such as “yes” and “no.”
Abstract learning is the ability to understand ideas or qualities as opposed to actual physical
objects or people (Zentall., Wasserman, & Urcuioli, 2014). Many non-human animals
demonstrate the ability to engage in abstract learning processes, such as size and difference
comparisons and even associative learning, understanding that concepts are interchangeable with
one another by virtue of a common association with an outcome or another object.
Symbol use has been used by animals to express abstract concepts similar to children’s lessons.
Notably, Dr. Pepperberg’s research with Alex, the African grey parrot, demonstrated his fluency
in comparing number symbols with physical quantities, stating that the number 5 was larger than
a quantity of four objects (Pepperberg, 2006).
Capuchin monkeys and African greys have demonstrated the ability to engage in symbolic
reasoning (Addessi, Mancini, Crescimbene et. al, 2008). Different colored tokens were
associated with certain foods, and the monkeys and parrots interchangeably exchanged correct
tokens for their preferred foods. African greys have been observed to give food tokens to other
African greys that couldn’t access the tokens so that they could also get reinforcers (Brucks &
von Bayern, 2020).
CLE can also utilize symbol use in captive birds as a learning modality.
Research demonstrates that enhancing the degree of control an animal has over their
environment can lead to beneficial effects on their behavior (Brent & Weaver, 1996; Honess &
Marin, 2006; Line, Clarke, Markowitz & Ellman, 1990). Some have argued that control is a vital
part of psychological wellbeing and even that an animal’s own choice should be a determinant
for what enrichment is provided (Washburn, 2015).
Symbol use has also been used by animals to communicate choice and preference. Horses have
been trained to touch symbols to make requests for blankets during cold temperatures and for
removal of blankets during warm temperatures (Mejdell, Buvik, Jørgensen, & Bøe, 2016). Our
research indicates that parrots have the ability to use abstract symbols to communicate “yes” and
“no” regarding the presence or absence of a matching set of cards (Cunha, Rhoads & Niemann,
manuscript in preparation).
Theoretically, just as horses used symbols to request the application or removal of blankets, birds
may be capable of expressing preference between two proffered objects through choice training.
As described in the case study below, while choice is possible within the limited resources
available to caregivers and facilities through a birds option to engage or disengage, a vehicle for
communication by way of yes/no objects and simple vocabulary training can increase the variety
of choice to captive parrots and provide a framework for CLE as well.
Lesson Setup and Frequency
I offer cognitive learning enrichment lessons three-to-five times per week to our parrots.
Sessions can range from ten minutes to forty minutes, depending on the bird’s interest and my
time availability.
For novel and complex CLE, the birds are given one-on-one instruction. The lessons are divided
into three parts: an introduction, a challenging middle, and a fun finishing topic, each
approximately three to six minutes longor much longer, if the bird asks to continue. The bird
chooses the topics for each segment through preference discrimination.
The introduction to the lesson often covers recently pre-learned topics as a warm-up and to build
momentum, for example, a review of colors or a simple matching game. The middle portion of
the lesson may include new vocabulary, a math lesson, phonics, or music. The final portion of
the lesson often generalizes the new topic to relevant environmental application or is another fun
activity the bird picks.
At all times, birds are allowed to “opt out” of lessons, either by behaviorally disengaging,
walking, or flying away.
When there is limited time availability, I use CLEs such as children’s books and art (as described
below) and multiple birds participate simultaneously. This allows them the opportunity for new
sensory experiences and challenging cognitive tasks with high rates of reinforcement while
allowing multiple birds to engage in CLE within the allotted time budget.
Simple Vocabulary Development
Parrots evidence the capacity for a wide base of vocabulary development. The bird with the
largest speaking vocabulary was a budgie, who spoke over 1,700 words and is recorded in the
Guinness Book of World Records. Alex the African Grey appeared to speak over 200 words in
context, including colors, numbers, shapes, and materials (Pepperberg, 1987).
As an enrichment exercise, birds can be trained on simple vocabulary such as colors, shapes, and
numbers. Through the use of media, pictures, and vocabulary lessons, they can also be
introduced to concepts such as weather, body parts, locations and objects, names of people and
animals in their environments, other types of animals, and even cultural themes (i.e., Santa or the
Easter Bunny).
Book Enrichment
Children’s books provide an almost unlimited array of enrichment opportunities with colorful
pictures and simple stories. Books can also be borrowed for free from the library. Birds may be
target trained to find specific, recurring pictures throughout the book (i.e., a rabbit or a pumpkin)
and given treats each time they touch the cued image.
Book enrichment can also be used with several birds simultaneously by asking the birds one at a
time to pick the specific target picture, and then moving to the next page. This enrichment
exercises allows birds to hear new vocabulary, see an assortment of pictures, and search for
pictures on pages while getting a high ratio of reinforcers.
Craft Enrichment
Like books, options for simple children’s crafts abound. Birds can be asked to select between
two decorative craft components, and after the selection, trained to touch their preference of a
location on the craft to attach the decoration. This activity can draw from cultural influences (i.e.,
holidays) or be topical (i.e., shapes, colors, or animals) and has a high rate of reinforcement
along with cognitive challenges, preference practice, social enrichment, and sensory experiences.
Family Games
Many animals, including pigeons, African grey parrots, dolphins, rats, sea lions and non-human
primates, have demonstrated the ability to engage in abstract thinking through the match-to-
sample (MTS) paradigm (Lind, Enquist, & Ghirlanda, 2014).
Many family games can be adapted for bird and human participation utilizing MTS training as a
base, including Go Fish! and Bingo. The card game, War, is a larger/smaller quantity
discrimination and the “Which Hand?” guessing game invites birds to guess which hand the treat
is located. From fish and colors to holidays, many different card decks can be rotated for the
games, allowing a variety of sensory experiences. Additionally, all of these games provide a
variety of options for cognitive enrichment with a high rate of reinforcement from the same
training framework.
Math & Quantity Discrimination
Alex, an African gray parrot (Psittacus erithacus) who was trained to vocalize labels for a variety
of objects (Pepperberg, 1981), demonstrated a variety of skills not previously exhibited by
nonhuman primates, including, e.g., counting to eight and inferring the cardinality of 7 and 8
from their order in a number line (Pepperberg & Carey, 2012). He also demonstrated knowledge
of the concept of “zero” something that took humans several millennia as a species to acquire
and is relatively late-developed in human children (Wellman & Miller, 1986).
Counting and quantity discrimination training in birds can be a springboard for cognitive
enrichment with generalization. Birds can be trained to recognize quantity discriminations (more
/ less) and count, and from that basis, trainers can incorporate math into other lessons, most
especially vocabulary. For instance, when learning colors, a trainer can ask the bird, “How many
are yellow?” During holidays we count seasonal themes. For example, at Halloween my birds
count spider, and bat cut-outs and count the number of pumpkins on pages in children’s books.
Letters and Phonics
Baboons, sea lions, and pigeons have successfully mastered orthographic processing, acquiring
the ability to detect strings of letters and English words from non-English words (Grainger et al.,
2012; Scarf et al., 2016). Initial research into phonics skills in an umbrella cockatoo suggests that
parrots may also have the ability to learn sound-text correspondence (Cunha, Clubb & Perry,
under review), and research on a Goffin’s cockatoo has suggested the ability to learn new
vocabulary through reading (Cunha & Rhoads, manuscript in preparation).
If enhanced enrichment is the notion that birds are exposed to harder concepts as new skills are
mastered, phonics provides the most comprehensive scope of lessons. As sounds and letters are
learned, new ones are offered, and the combinations chained into sound-blending through words.
The complex cognitive task of reading may provide a basis for communication, independent and
social learning through books, and nearly unlimited learning concepts and resources.
African greys have been observed to demonstrate music preference and when provided choice,
even select their preferred music to play throughout the day.
We created index cards with different music symbols and used learning enrichment lessons to
associate the cards with certain genres of music, including classical, rock, and versions of calm
music such as guitar, piano, and new age. We also created an index card with a bird on it so the
birds could choose to listen to bird vocalizations.
For extra enrichment, the birds also explored sub-genres of classical music such as Baroque,
Romantic and Impressionist styles, each with composer and era associations.
Each day, one of the birds chooses the auditory enrichment and although not yet researched
formally, certain patterns have emerged as preferential genres (and even composers) which vary
by bird.
Helen Dishaw and Matilda
Helen Dishaw is Curator of Bird Programs at Tracy Aviary in Salt Lake City, Utah and Vice
President of IAATE. Helen initially expressed interest in cognitive learning enrichment with
Matilda, a Red-Tailed Black Cockatoo who frequently disengaged from previously learned
traditional training activities.
Q: How do you feel about training Matilda with CLE?
I LOVE it. It has been surprising to me! Her capacity to learn the volume she is learning (and
complication level) is constantly surprising. Learning to discriminate colors and shapes, not
surprising really at all I was 100% confident she would master that without much difficulty.
But some of the things we parlayed that into in our fun lessons has been interesting to watch her
mind work.
We stick with things I can tangibly verify as right/wrong in her choices discrimination, match-
to-sample she’s either correct in her choice or she’s not and I can see it and a lot of it is just
discriminating and matching sounds/pictures/objects, none of which is out of the scope of belief
possible but it’s the sheer volume of things she is remembering and learning to associate and
discriminate that is mind-blowing to me.
Q: What made you interested in CLE with Matilda?
A: Matilda is a quick learner, I’ve taught her a lot of “mechanical” behaviors for shows and or
private fun (such as recycling items, collecting money on donation box, flight retrieve, playing
Connect-4, stacking cups, putting shapes in puzzle box) and during sessions with her we’d
review and play with these mechanical learned behaviors.
But I noticed a waning of enthusiasm from her, not to anthropomorphize but almost like she was
“bored” with the basic behaviors she’d learned and ready for something more challenging.
Again, not to anthropomorphize, but to put it in terms anyone could understand it felt like she
had outgrown the behaviors much like a child would outgrow games you play when your five
years old you wouldn’t play Candyland with your teenager and expect them to be as engaged
as they were when they were five. I saw the cognitive lessons you were doing with your parrots
and thought it might be something worth trying with her just for fun just to see what she’d
The results of it have been surprising to me (and continue to be).
Q: Could you describe her body language toward training topics prior to CLE?
A: Matilda would do a couple of reps of mechanical behaviors, but then disengage wander
away or just refuse. She knew what was being asked of her but wasn’t motivated to do it.
Q: How did you feel about Matilda’s training sessions her prior to CLE?
A: They were making me a little sad and frustrated, I felt as though I were failing to meet her
needs in some way. Seeing her seem “bored” with things she’d previously appeared to “enjoy” (I
use these words in “” because, of course, we cannot know what they are feeling, but this was the
impression I got based on her body language and enthusiasm levels) motivated me to find
something new to try with her.
Q: Could you describe the manner in which she expressed “preference” or choice over her
training topics prior to CLE?
A: Literally just whether or not she would engage or do what was being asked. She does not have
to do anything she doesn’t choose to do (never has). We ask, and she has a choice to participate
or not through her behavior and we’re respectful of her choices at all times. But she didn’t really
have a way to choose which thing we were going to ask her to do, just whether or not she did it
when asked (if that makes sense).
Q: How often do you train CLE?
A: Every day, with very little exception.
Q: Could you describe the manner in which Matilda expresses preference or choice over
her CLE topics?
I offer her choices of two different topics and she chooses one or the other, I’ll then offer her
the choice of that one and a third topic option, and let her choose one or the other. I’ll do that a
few times to narrow down which topic I really feel she is leaning towards. I also taught her
yes/no (using colored targets and words) to confirm choices.
So, for example, I’ll give her a choice between topics “colors” and “shapes” – if she chooses
“shapes,” I’ll then ask her to confirm that with yes/no targets, if she confirms yes – I’ll offer her
“shapes” and “words” – if she chooses “shapes” again, we’ll confirm with yes/no targets – and
assuming yes we work with shapes, as I feel that’s enough indication for me of her preference
for that day.
Q: What topics does Matilda most often select?
A: It changes. She went through a phase of choosing shapes over anything she really did seem
to enjoy learning shapes. But it’s not always predictable what she chooses, and a lot of the time
now it will be the newest topic we’ve been playing with.
Q: Has the length of her training changed from before CLE? If yes, in what way?
A: Yes, she is engaged for longer, for the most part. Some days she doesn’t want to do it at all,
and that’s fine, but that is not often. Maybe because there is so much variation in what we can
do, so it’s more stimulating and different each day.
Q: Could you describe her behavior/orientation toward CLE?
A: We have a station she comes to for her CLE session when she sees me coming with my
“props” – she is on the station before I can get there and eager to start I see that as a clear
demonstration of enthusiasm. In fact, I found if I take too long setting up my lesson materials,
she paces back and forth, impatient to get going so I started prepping materials out of her view
so I could come to her prepared to jump right in so she’s not waiting on me.
Q: What have been your favorite lessons?
A: Tough one. I really loved teaching her color and shape discrimination when we were doing
that. Most especially colors, because as she learned the colors, we’d take it outside when doing
public encounters at my facility and find that color while out and about which I really felt was
fun if we were focused on learning red I’d ask her to find and touch red flowers, red leaves,
red signs, etc. and that was a lot of fun. We did a whole series of lessons around food some
she liked, some she didn’t – and discriminating food items by name (vocal and written) and that
was fun. Right now, she is learning to discriminate photos of the birds she lives with and around,
as well as their written names, and matching those this is my favorite at the moment. I guess
that wasn’t a very good answer, I think I enjoy whatever the newest thing is that we’re doing – as
long as I can see she is enthusiastic about it and seems to be learning.
Q: What are some of the unexpected challenges?
A: Time commitment really is the only one. The further you go with it, the more prep time is
necessary (I imagine like a teacher having to prepare lessons for a class), so there is an
investment of time necessary (I do a lot of mine at home the night before). As opposed to other
forms of enrichment that might just take a few minutes to make a toy or a foraging opportunity
CLE requires thinking about what you are going to work on, creating the props and gather
supplies, lesson planning on a day-to-day basis. But, it has been more than worth it.
Q: If you could tell others just a few things about cognitive learning enrichment, what
would they be?
A: It’s worth trying. Even if you are skeptical that it’s possible for birds to learn some of these
things, it’s fun to play with, it helps you become a better teacher, it is relationship building, it is
engagement for the bird, it is empowering for the bird, and it’s surprising! There really isn’t a
downside to it… and it’s fun.
Captive parrots are highly cognitive animals. They also exhibit an increased incidence of
stereotypic behaviors, thought to be related, at least in part, to lack of enrichment opportunities.
Researchers believe that enrichment can be comprised of “non-traditional” methods that more
fully utilize sensory, motor, learning, and memory skill capacity in animals by way of challenges
that increase in difficulty over time and mastery.
Cognitive learning enrichment using kindergarten concepts with two-choice discrimination
includes a rich variety of topics that can be taught and integrated together. This provides a
simple-to-teach framework with complex lesson resources in order to meet the cognitive needs
of captive birds.
Perhaps because of social engagement, mental challenges, and novel learning stimuli, birds who
participate in cognitive learning enrichment appear to engage in training sessions for longer
duration and express behaviors (vocalizations, movement) that indicate a preference to
participate in learning. Birds also utilize choice throughout the lesson to control the pace and
topics of their learning.
Additionally, the training modality of two-choice discrimination is simple and trainers and
owners express enjoyment and satisfaction with the training process.
It has been our observation that some participant birds have reduced or eliminated altogether
their stereotypic behaviors, although further research is needed.
Finally, cognitive learning enrichment can be a mechanism for providing challenges in
increasing difficulty and utilizing birds’ learning, memory, and motor skills in a meaningful way
to enrich their lives in captive settings.
Addessi, E., Mancini, A., Crescimbene, L., et al. (2008). Preference transitivity and symbolic
representation in capuchin monkeys (Cebus apella). PloS one. 3. e2414.
Bennett, A., Bailoo, J., Dutton, M., Michel, G., & Pierre, P., (2018). A Model Quantitative
Assessment Tool for Nonhuman Primate Environmental Enrichment Plans. bioRxiv 341206; doi:
Brent, L., & Weaver, O. (1996). The physiological and behavioral effects of radio music on
singly housed baboons. Journal of Medical Primatology, 25(5), 370374.
Brucks D, von Bayern, A (2020). Parrots Voluntarily Help Each Other to Obtain Food Rewards.
Current Biology. DOI: 10.1016/j.cub.2019.11.030
Cunha, J., Clubb, S., & Perry, L., (under review). Grapheme-phoneme correspondence decoding
in an Umbrella cockatoo (Cacatua alba). Journal of Animal Cognition.
Cunha, J., Rhoads, C., & Clubb, S. (manuscript in preparation). Use of Sidman’s equivalence
relation theory to test word level reading comprehension in a Goffin’s cockatoo (Cacatua
Cunha, J., Rhoads, C., & Niemann, H. (manuscript in preparation). Parrots’ Use of Choice
Symbols to Indicate Presence or Non-Presence of a Match.
Fagot J, Gullstrand J, Kemp C, Defilles C, Mekaouche M. (2014). Effects of freely accessible
computerized test systems on the spontaneous behaviors and stress level of Guinea baboons
(Papio papio). American Journal of Primatology.
Garner J, Meehan C, Famula T, & Mench J. (2006). Genetic, environmental, and neighbor
effects on the severity of stereotypies and feather picking in Orange-winged Amazon parrots
(Amazona amazonica): an epidemiological study. Applied Animal Behaviour Science,
96(1):153168. doi: 10.1016/j.applanim.2005.09.009.
Grainger, J., Dufau, S., Montant, M., Ziegler, J. (2012) Orthographic Processing in Baboons,
Science, 336(6078):245-248.
Güntürkün, O., Ströckens, F., Scarf, D., Colombo, M. (2017) Apes, feathered apes, and pigeons:
differences and similarities. Current Opinion in Behavioral Sciences, 16:35-40.
Habl, C., & Auersperg, A. M. I. (2017). The keybox: Shape-frame fitting during tool use in
Goffin’s cockatoos (Cacatua goffiniana). PLOS ONE, 12(11), e0186859.
Honess, P. E., & Marin, C. M. (2006). Enrichment and aggression in primates. Neuroscience &
Biobehavioral Reviews, 30(3), 413436.
Jayson S., Williams D., & Wood J. (2014). Prevalence and risk factors of feather plucking in
African grey parrots (Psittacus erithacus erithacus and Psittacus erithacus timneh) and cockatoo
(Cacatua spp.) Journal of Exotic Pet Medicine, 23:250257. doi: 10.1053/j.jepm.2014.06.012.
Lind J, Enquist M, & Ghirlanda S. Animal memory: A review of delayed matching-to-sample
data. Behav Processes. 2014; 117:52-58
Line, S. W., Clarke, A. S., Markowitz, H., & Ellman, G. (1990). Responses of female rhesus
macaques to an environmental enrichment apparatus. Laboratory Animals, 24(3), 213220.
Meehan C., Garner J., & Mench J. (2004). Environmental enrichment and development of cage
stereotypy in Orange-winged Amazon parrots (Amazona amazonica). Developmental
Psychobiology, 44(4):209-18.
Mejdell C, Buvik T, Jørgensen G, & Bøe K. Horses can learn to use symbols to communicate
their preferences. Appl Anim Behav Sci. 2016; 184
Mikolasch, S., Kotrschal, K., & Schloegl, C. (2011). African grey parrots (Psittacus erithacus)
use inference by exclusion to find hidden food. Biology Letters, 7(6), 875877.
O’Hara, M., Auersperg, A. M. I., Bugnyar, T., Huber, L. (2015) Inference by Exclusion in
Goffin Cockatoos (Cacatua goffini). PLoS ONE, (10)8:e0134894.
Pepperberg, I. M. (1987). Acquisition of the same/different concept by an African Grey parrot
(Psittacus erithacus): Learning with respect to categories of color, shape, and material. Animal
Learning & Behavior, 15(4), 423432.
Pepperberg, I. M. (2006). Grey parrot (Psittacus erithacus) numerical abilities: Addition and
further experiments on a zero-like concept. Journal of Comparative Psychology, 120(1), 111.
Pepperberg, I. M., & Carey, S. (2012). Grey parrot number acquisition: The inference of cardinal
value from ordinal position on the numeral list. Cognition, 125(2), 219232.
Pepperberg, I. M., Gray, S. L., Lesser, J. S., & Hartsfield, L. A. (2017). Piagetian liquid
conservation in grey parrots (Psittacus erithacus). Journal of Comparative Psychology, 131(4),
Pepperberg, I. M., Gray, S. L., Mody, S., Cornero, F. M., & Carey, S. (2019). Logical reasoning
by a Grey parrot? A case study of the disjunctive syllogism. Behaviour, 156(58), 409445.
Pepperberg, I. M., Koepke, A., Livingston, P., Girard, M., & Hartsfield, L. A. (2013). Reasoning
by inference: Further studies on exclusion in grey parrots (Psittacus erithacus). Journal of
Comparative Psychology, 127(3), 272281.
Pepperberg, I., Nakayama, K. (2016) Robust representation of shape in a Grey parrot (Psittacus
erithacus). Cognition, Vol. 153, pp 146160.
Pepperberg, I. M., & Pailin, H. (2017). Evolution of mechanisms underlying visual working
memory manipulation: When “bird-brain” is a compliment. Presented at the Vision Science
Society, St. Petersburg, FL.
Scarf, D., Boy, K., Reinert, A. U., Colombo, M. (2016) Orthographic processing in pigeons.
Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, 113(40), 11272-11276.
Schaars, M. M. H, Segers, E., Ludo, V. (2017) Word decoding development in incremental
phonics instruction in a transparent orthography, Reading and Writing. doi 10.1007/s11145-017-
Schapiro SJ, Lambeth SP. (2018). Control, choice, and assessments of the value of behavioral
management to nonhuman primates in captivity. Journal of Applied Animal Welfare Science.
Washburn, D. A. (2015). The Four Cs of Psychological Wellbeing: Lessons from Three Decades
of Computer-based Environmental Enrichment.
Wellman, H. M., & Miller, K. F. (1986). Thinking about nothing: Development of concepts of
zero. British Journal of Developmental Psychology, 4(1), 3142.
Zentall, T., Wasserman, E., & Urcuioli, P. (2014). Associative concept learning in animals. J
Exp Anal Behav. 101. 10.1002/jeab.55.
ResearchGate has not been able to resolve any citations for this publication.
Full-text available
The housing and care of captive nonhuman primates (NHP) typically meets federal regulations and standards as well as guidelines by private accreditation organizations. There is, however, a gap between such policy, common practices, and the findings of a large empirical research literature on the effects of environmental enrichment (EE), particularly with respect to the degree to which different enrichment strategies lead to a demonstrable improvement of the animal’s psychological wellbeing. Assessment tools to guide decisions about selection and refinement of EE practices are largely missing and our companion paper offers a theoretically grounded qualitative approach to the categorization and assessment of sensory, motor, and cognitive (SMC) EE strategies. Here, we propose and illustrate a model for quantitative assessment of enrichment practices using a sample of research facility, zoo, and sanctuary NHP environmental enrichment plans (EEP). Our scoring technique provides a means for comparing the efficacy of different strategies across facilities and allows for the selection of priority areas for improvement. Overall, our assessment tool provides a framework that has several advantages. It is inherently flexible. It can be tailored to fit a range of species. It can readily be adapted to accommodate new evidence about a specific EE strategy, or new EE strategies, or both. Because a scientifically valid evidence-based framework drives priority, our method is readily adaptable to different types of facilities and is more likely to lead to longer-term benefits, both in terms of the enhancement of psychological wellbeing of captive NHP, and with respect to the judicious use of limited resources. Acronyms NHP nonhuman primates EE environmental enrichment EEP environmental enrichment plans SMC sensory motor cognitive SSIB somatic self-injurious behavior NSSIB non-somatic self-injurious behavior USDA United States Department of Agriculture AWA Animal Welfare Act AZA Association of Zoos and Aquariums GFAS Global Federation of Animal Sanctuaries NRC Guide Guide for the Care and Use of Laboratory Animals
Full-text available
The ability to move an object in alignment to a surface develops early in human ontogeny. However, aligning not just your own body but also the object itself in relation to a surface with a specific shape requires using landmarks rather than the own body as a frame of reference for orientation. The ability to do so is considered important in the development of tool use behaviour in human and non-human animals. Aside from humans, with the exception of a single study on habitually tool using primates, shape-frame matching abilities remain largely unstudied. The Goffin's cockatoo is a generalist parrot, and not a specialised tool user but has shown the capacity to innovate and use different types of tools under controlled settings. We tested these parrots in a tool selection and tool use task featuring objects and their corresponding substrate grooves in a number of shapes with different levels of symmetry. Subjects had to choose the correct ‘key‘ to insert into a box, and align its shape to fit into the corresponding ‘keyhole’ in the box. The parrots were able to select the correct key above chance level from early on in the experiment. Despite their lack of hands, they required fewer placement attempts than primates to insert simple object shapes into corresponding grooves. For complex shapes, they reduced their insertion effort by rotating shapes in their beak while avoiding as many protrusions as possible. Unrewarded play experience with similar object shapes was provided to some of the subjects previously to testing, but did not seem to have an effect on the number of correct choices or on insertion effort.
Full-text available
Three decades ago, the Animal Welfare Act was amended to require researchers to provide environments that promoted the psychological, as well as the physical, wellbeing of nonhuman primates maintained for research purposes. We developed a computer-task paradigm with the goal of promoting and assessing the psychological wellbeing of rhesus monkeys. Some lessons learned in the three decades of using this enrichment strategy are discussed in this review. These findings underscore the importance of comfort, companionship, challenge and control in the psychological wellbeing of nonhuman primates, and the utility of game-like computerized tasks for addressing these dimensions of psychological fitness.
Full-text available
This paper describes a method in which horses learn to communicate by touching different neutral visual symbols, in order to tell the handler whether they want to have a blanket on or not. Horses were trained for 10–15minutes per day, following a training program comprising ten steps in a strategic order. Reward based operant conditioning was used to teach horses to approach and touch a board, and to understand the meaning of three different symbols. Heat and cold challenges were performed to help learning and to check level of understanding. At certain stages, a learning criterion of correct responses for 8-14 successive trials had to be achieved before proceeding. After introducing the free choice situation, on average at training day 11, the horse could choose between a “no change” symbol and the symbol for either “blanket on” or “blanket off” depending on whether the horse already wore a blanket or not. A cut off point for performance or non-performance was set to day 14, and 23/23 horses successfully learned the task within this limit. Horses of warm-blood type needed fewer training days to reach criterion than cold-bloods (P<0.05). Horses were then tested under differing weather conditions. Results show that choices made, i.e. the symbol touched, was not random but dependent on weather. Horses chose to stay without a blanket in nice weather, and they chose to have a blanket on when the weather was wet, windy and cold (χ2=36.67, P<0.005). This indicates that horses both had an understanding of the consequence of their choice on own thermal comfort, and that they successfully had learned to communicate their preference by using the symbols. The method represents a novel tool for studying preferences in horses.
Helping others to obtain benefits, even at a cost to oneself, poses an evolutionary puzzle [1]. While kin selection explains such "selfless" acts among relatives, only reciprocity (paying back received favors) entails fitness benefits for unrelated individuals [2]. So far, experimental evidence for both prosocial helping (providing voluntary assistance for achieving an action-based goal) and reciprocity has been reported in a few mammals but no avian species [3]. In order to gain insights into the evolutionary origins of these behaviors, the capacity of non-mammalian species for prosociality and for reciprocity needs to be investigated. We tested two parrot species in an instrumental-helping paradigm involving "token transfer." Here, actors could provide tokens to their neighbor, who could exchange them with an experimenter for food. To verify whether the parrots understood the task's contingencies, we systematically varied the presence of a partner and the possibility for exchange. We found that African grey parrots voluntarily and spontaneously transferred tokens to conspecific partners, whereas significantly fewer transfers occurred in the control conditions. Transfers were affected by the strength of the dyads' affiliation and partially by the receivers' attention-getting behaviors. Furthermore, the birds reciprocated the help once the roles were reversed. Blue-headed macaws, in contrast, transferred hardly any tokens. Species differences in social tolerance might explain this discrepancy. These findings show that instrumental helping based on a prosocial attitude, accompanied but potentially not sustained by reciprocity, is present in parrots, suggesting that this capacity evolved convergently in this avian group and mammals.
In Call’s (2004) 2-cups task, widely used to explore logical and causal reasoning across species and early human development, a reward is hidden in one of two cups, one is shown to be empty, and successful subjects search for the reward in the other cup. Infants as young as 17-months and some individuals of almost all species tested succeed. Success may reflect logical, propositional thought and working through a disjunctive syllogism (A or B; not A, therefore B). It may also reflect appreciation of the modal concepts “necessity” and “possibility”, and the epistemic concept “certainty”. Mody & Carey’s (2016) results on 2-year-old children with 3- and 4-cups versions of this task converge with studies on apes in undermining this rich interpretation of success. In the 3-cups version, one reward is hidden in a single cup, another in one of two other cups, and the participant is given one choice, thereby tracking the ability to distinguish a certain from an uncertain outcome. In the 4-cups procedure, a reward is hidden in one cup of each pair (e.g., A, C); one cup (e.g., B) is then shown to be empty. Successful subjects should conclude that the reward is 100% likely in A, only 50% likely in either C or D, and accordingly choose A, thereby demonstrating modal and logical concepts in addition to epistemic ones. Children 2 1/2 years of age fail the 4-cups task, and apes fail related tasks tapping the same constructs. Here we tested a Grey parrot ( Psittacus erithacus ), Griffin, on the 3- and 4-cups procedures. Griffin succeeded on both tasks, outperforming even 5-year-old children. Controls ruled out that his success on the 4-cups task was due to a learned associative strategy of choosing the cup next to the demonstrated empty one. These data show that both the 3- and 4-cups tasks do not require representational abilities unique to humans. We discuss the competences on which these tasks are likely to draw, and what it is about parrots, or Griffin in particular, that explains his better performance than either great apes or linguistically competent preschool children on these and conceptually related tasks.
An understanding of Piagetian liquid conservation was investigated in four Grey parrots (Psittacus erithacus), their ages ranging from initially less than 1 year old to 18 years old. They were tested in several conditions: on the ability to choose between (a) identical containers filled with a greater or lesser quantity of a desirable liquid to see if they would reliably take the larger amount and (b) equal quantities of liquid that were visibly or invisibly transferred from identical to different-sized containers to examine their abilities with respect to conservation. Invisible transfers examined the extent to which birds chose based on perceptual evaluations of quantity and the effects of task order on their decisions. Adult birds succeeded on all or most aspects of the tests. As a chick (∼6 months), 1 bird was unable or unwilling to choose between the smaller and larger quantities in the first stage of testing, but upon reaching juvenile status succeeded in all aspects of the tests. Grey parrots thus demonstrate some understanding of liquid conservation. (PsycINFO Database Record
Apes, corvids, and pigeons differ in their pallial/cortical neuron numbers, with apes ranking first and pigeons third. Do cognitive performances rank accordingly? If they would do, cognitive performance could be explained at a mechanistic level by computational capacity provided by neuron numbers. We discuss five areas of cognition (short-term memory, object permanence, abstract numerical competence, orthographic processing, self-recognition) in which apes, corvids, and pigeons have been tested with highly similar procedures. In all tests apes and corvids were on par, but also pigeons reached identical achievement levels in three tests. We suggest that higher neuron numbers are poor predictors of absolute cognitive ability, but better predict learning speed and the ability to flexibly transfer rules to novel situations.
Significance A novel theory suggests that orthographic processing is the product of neuronal recycling, with visual circuits that evolved to code visual objects now co-opted to code words. Here, we provide a litmus test of this theory by assessing whether pigeons, an organism with a visual system organizationally distinct from that of primates, code words orthographically. Pigeons not only correctly identified novel words but also display the hallmarks of orthographic processing, in that they are sensitive to the bigram frequencies of words, the orthographic similarity between words and nonwords, and the transposition of letters. These findings demonstrate that visual systems neither genetically nor organizationally similar to humans can be recycled to represent the orthographic code that defines words.
A Grey parrot, Griffin (Psittacus erithacus), previously taught English labels for various colors and shapes with respect to three-dimensional (3D) stimuli, was tested on his ability to transfer to very different two-dimensional (2D) images consisting of modal and amodal completion stimuli. For modal completion (aka subjective contours), Kanizsa figures were constructed using black ‘pac-men’ to form regular polygons on colored paper. For amodal completion, portions of variously colored regular 2D polygons were occluded by black circles or other black figures. For each task, Griffin provided a vocal English shape label for five possible shapes designated by their vertices (one, two, three, four, six). His accuracy was high for both amodal completed figures, including probe stimuli (28/38 correct) and modally completed figures (29/38 correct), with chance = 0.20. The modally completed case (i.e., Kanizsa subjective figures) is of particular importance as there are no shared image parts between training and testing stimuli. We draw several conclusions from these results. First, a surface level completion process is fully operative insofar as Griffin was able to correctly identify shapes that differed considerably from training images. Second, because parrots can generalize from shapes of real objects to drawings where original image contours were clearly absent, the data provide a compelling example of shape invariance, indicating that visual shapes are processed far beyond that of their image description. Third, parrots with a repertoire of multiple vocal responses can be rigorously tested for visual competencies, an option as yet to be tried in other experimental animals.