African greys are considered a very smart species by most metrics. Indeed, some rank African grey intelligence among the highest of nonhuman species. They are profoundly social animals which is often a good indicator of intelligence, too. Furthermore, African greys exhibit the knowledge and inclination to help other individuals in trouble, a rare thing in an animal.
Defining, judging, and measuring “intelligence” in any creature, whether human, bird, or beast, is not an easy thing to do.
There are a number of simple metrics we can refer to in order to gauge the intelligence of an animal in a general sense, but not everyone will always agree on these methods.
There is, though, general consensus that African greys are very smart.
Let’s find out why.
Are African Greys intelligent?
By most metrics, African greys are highly intelligent animals.
There are a few ways you can measure the intelligence of an animal, but again I want to stress that few of them are without controversy.
Obviously, “intelligence” is something which may be loosely or more rigidly defined depending on who you are talking to.
The simplest definition being that it defines the ability to acquire skills and knowledge doesn’t exactly apply to parrots, though they are nonetheless very intelligent.
There are perhaps two primary things we should take into account when discussing the relative intelligence of African greys.
Firstly, and most simply, is their problem-solving ability.
Studies have shown that African greys are highly adept problem solvers.
They are capable of solving complex puzzles, requiring forward-thinking and even logical reasoning.
They have highly developed cognitive abilities, granting them the capacity to manipulate and understand their environment.
They can even use tools and other similar complex strategies to overcome problems and challenges.
Another important and more natural, behavioral way to determine the intelligence of African greys is their social habits.
Social animals are often more “intelligent” in some ways because they must have more developed social brains in order to understand the nuances of communication.
African greys are highly social animals, and they need companionship, whether that’s from you at home or from other parrots in the wild.
This also feeds into their complex emotional intelligence, and they have been shown to experience a wide range of emotions.
There are a variety of other signs we can look to as well.
They have excellent memory, remembering where food has been hidden and of course their capacity to memorize words and phrases.
They even have advanced conceptual understanding, such as recognizing color, shape and even numerical concepts.
So, by virtually all agreed-upon metrics for judging the intelligence of an animal species, African greys are considered very intelligent.
But are they the smartest parrot?
Are African greys the smartest parrot?
If simply judging whether one species is intelligent is difficult, then judging the comparative intelligence of parrots can be even trickier.
Naturally, there are some examples where we can clearly say one is smarter than another. Kakapos, for instance, are widely considered to be among the stupidest birds, incapable of complex problem-solving and without much emotional intelligence.
But when you have two extremely intelligent species, it’s difficult to say which one is smarter.
Amazon parrots and macaws, for instance, are considered to be extremely intelligent.
It’s hard to say whether African greys are smarter than them.
Some individuals of one species are going to be smarter than individuals of the other, and vice versa.
To put it simply, though, African greys are certainly widely considered to be among the most if not the smartest parrot species in the world.
The difficulty is simply that metrics for judging it are not as useful when you get down to the more minute differences in intelligence.
African greys have largely comparable problem-solving ability and emotional intelligence to, say, Amazons, macaws, and cockatoos.
Why, then, are African greys so smart?
Why are African greys so smart?
If measuring intelligence is difficult, then answering the why of African grey’s intelligence is even trickier.
The simple answer is just one of natural selection. African greys live primarily in rainforests, which are some of the most competitive environments on the planet.
Climaxed tropical rainforests are so abundant with life that every single evolutionary niche is filled, and every single source of food is likely to be competed over by multiple species.
Thus, African greys with higher intelligence tend to be more likely to survive.
They are more capable of finding and winning food, living space, and of avoiding predators—a particular problem for African greys.
On an evolutionary timeline, the individuals with higher intelligence could attribute this intelligence largely to random genetic mutations which gave them the edge.
Because these individuals are the ones that survive most successfully, they are the ones that go on to breed.
They pass on their genes and so their offspring survive more successfully.
This is the fundamental principle of natural selection and the simplest answer for why they are so smart.
On the other hand, there are more complex answers regarding the structure of their brains.
African greys, and many other parrots, have enlarged medial spiriform nuclei, which allows for better connectivity between the avian cortex and the cerebellum.
In other words, physiologically an African grey’s brain is highly developed and allows for a great number of neuron connections between different regions of the brain.
Are African greys smarter than dogs?
Genearlly speaking, African greys are regarded as more intelligent than most dogs.
It is typically agreed that the border collie is the smartest breed of dog, but they are not capable of beating African greys in animal intelligence tests.
Referring back to the metrics we have so far discussed, African greys are more intelligent than dogs.
However, again, the problem of definition arises.
Many might consider species of dog to be smarter than parrots or African greys because dogs are more easily trained, capable of doing elaborate tricks or even carrying out complex tasks such as border collies do.
On the other hand, many would simply say that African greys are too intelligent to be trained into doing things they don’t want to do.
By most definitions, though, dogs are not smarter than African greys.
What was the smartest African grey?
One particular African grey named Alex, who died in 2007, was the subject of a thirty-year experiment into the intelligence of animals.
This parrot is still considered to be an example of the smartest individual parrot.
He accomplished many things throughout his training, though his trainer always stressed he did not use language in the way we do.
Nonetheless, Alex’s accomplishments were staggering.
He could apparently identify 50 different objects, and he could identify quantities up to six.
He was able to tell between seven different colors and five different shapes.
He could also understand comparatives, so he understood the concept of bigger, smaller, or the same as.
His vocabulary was over 100 words strong, but even further was that he was apparently able to understand what he had said.
He could distinguish features like color and shape, as mentioned.
However, these findings are not without controversy.
Some claim it is merely an example of operant conditioning, meaning that the behaviors were simply related to stimuli and not an inherent understanding of what was being said.
In other words, Alex performed by rote, rather than through actual understanding.
Do African grey parrots have high IQ?
IQ is largely a pseudoscientific metric, to put it plainly.
It is really a measure of a human’s reasoning ability, in any case, and so cannot simply be transferred to a parrot.
African greys are highly intelligent, and there are a number of ways we can demonstrate this. Simple problem-solving ability is very high in African greys, indicating their intelligence.
They can reason out problems and come up with a solution in a fairly short amount of time.
On the other hand, their social complexity is another good indicator of intelligence.
Again, though, IQ specifically is really only useful as a measure of one’s ability to succeed in academic work, and many dispute the value of an IQ test altogether.
So, the simple answer is that African greys are extremely smart.
By all the uncontroversial metrics for judging such a thing in animals, such as problem solving ability and social complexity,
African greys are very smart.
That said, some may consider more trainable animals smarter—you can’t really get African greys to herd your sheep, for instance.
Either way, though, they are very intelligent when compared to other animals as a whole.