Think back to your childhood and try to remember your favorite childhood memory.
If you have thought of a memory from your childhood, you have just accessed your long-term memory.
The ability to think back to the extended past, long term memory is often something we take for granted as humans.
Unless we are suffering from a disease like dementia or have suffered from a brain injury, most of us have long-term memory.
But what about parrots?
We know they are extremely intelligent, but do they have a long-term memory?
The answer to this question is yes, parrots do have a long-term memory. Given the fact that they can memorize and repeat over 150 words and phrases, this isn’t really shocking. What is shocking is that parrots’ brains are wired in much of the same way as that of humans’ brains, which is why they have the capability of remembering in the same way that we do (which we will talk more about later).
But how does long-term memory work, how good is a parrot’s long-term memory, and can a parrot remember their previous owner?
Today we will answer all of these questions and more – so let’s not waste another minute!
Table of Contents
What is long-term memory and how does it work?
Memory can be broken down into two different categories – short-term and long-term.
Short-term memory refers to memories that are only stored for a short period of time.
The sentence that you just read was stored in your short term memory – you know what it says right now, but in a few moments from now you will have moved on to the next sentence and wouldn’t be able to repeat the last one (at least not word for word).
Long-term memory is defined as the ability to store memories over an extended period of time.
If you can pull a memory from your childhood or tell me where you had coffee last month, then you are drawing those memories from the long term.
Long-term memories are generally stored outside of our awareness.
In other words, we are not always consciously aware of them, but they can be called into our working memory (present memory) as needed.
For example, you probably weren’t thinking of your favorite childhood memory until I asked you about it.
The memory was there, but you weren’t consciously aware of it until you were asked.
Furthermore, there are two different types of long-term memory.
Explicit memories are those that are available to your consciousness.
They generally include specific events (ie. your favorite childhood memory) or knowledge about the world (ie. the sky is blue).
Implicit memories are long-term memories that are stored in your unconscious.
When you drive a car or ride a bike, you are using implicit memories – or you can perform these actions without really giving them much thought.
Of course, there’s much more to memory – I could go on for 100 pages on everything to do with memory, but let’s just keep it simple and move on to the next question.
Do parrots have long-term memory?
Yes! Parrots do have a long-term memory.
In fact, according to research, birds’ brains are wired very similarly to our own.
Research done at Imperial College in London was conducted to map the different regions of a bird’s brain, showing how the different regions are connected as well as how they process information.
When compared to maps of the human brain, researchers found that areas for high-level cognition, such as long-term memory, were wired very similarly in birds and humans.
Research like this suggests that parrots may wire long-term memories in the same way that we do, which is why they have such good memory capacity.
Another study by Dr. Irene Pepperberg found that her two parrots, Griffin and Athena, had the ability to remember people from years ago.
According to Dr. Pepperberg, the parrots did not like strangers, but when greeted by men who looked similar to a student that worked with them in the past (tall, blonde hair), the parrots would happily welcome them.
In another situation, the parrots welcomed a student they had not seen in 5 years as if they were only gone for 10 minutes.
Just take a look on Google and you will find many more examples like Griffin and Athena, as well as many other anecdotal stories of parrots who have excellent long-term memory capacities.
Just look at their ability to memorize words, and there’s no doubt that parrots can, in fact, remember things from long ago.
Why do parrots need long-term memory?
When it comes to nature, there is usually a reason that most things occur.
Parrots sleep with their eyes open so that predators think they are awake.
They have feathers to help protect them from the elements.
In other words, everything has an evolutionary purpose.
So why do parrots have a long-term memory?
If you look at parrots in the wild, it’s no surprise that they need a long-term memory to survive.
Firstly, parrots need to remember locations and have access to travel routes that will lead them to food.
Without long-term memory, parrots would not be able to find food sources that are only available once per year, and would inevitably starve to death.
Secondly, parrots in the wild need to be on constant guard for predators.
But in order to be on guard, they must first know what a predator looks like.
Knowing the difference between harmless animals and predators can help to keep parrots safe in the wild, but requires access to long-term memories.
In return, parrots have developed exceptional memories for a reason – because, without them, they wouldn’t survive.
Where does the term bird brain come from?
The term “bird-brained” is one that is used to be offensive, and that is another way of saying “stupid”.
If birds aren’t stupid then where did the term actually come from?
Well, I’ve done a lot of digging around and unfortunately, I can’t find the answer to this question.
While it does seem to be a generational term, there’s little information out there regarding how the term actually came to be.
If I had to guess, the term was probably derived from a time when we didn’t actually know much about the brains of birds.
Because they are such a small species, we probably just assumed that they had small brains too.
But as we now know, quite the contrary is true.
In fact, next to humans, crows are now thought to be the most intelligent species.
That’s right – in terms of intelligence, crows have even been found to be smarter than some apes.
And when it comes to parrots, their innate ability to be able to speak and remember words, name colors, and memorize shapes shows that they probably aren’t far behind.
So the next time someone calls you bird-brained?
Take it as a compliment – it means you are intelligent!
Can Parrots remember previous owners?
If parrots have a good long-term memory, then it comes as no surprise that the answer to this question is also yes.
But don’t just take my word for it – why not look at some studies?
According to a study performed at the University of Lincoln in the UK, pigeons are able to discern the difference between familiar and unfamiliar human faces.
Yes, I know that pigeons and parrots are not the same things, but they are very close in terms of brain mechanics.
In the study, one group of pigeons was taught how to recognize the difference between familiar and unfamiliar objects.
Another group of pigeons was not taught.
Then they were shown pairs of human faces (one of a familiar face and one of a stranger).
The group that was taught to recognize differences was able to point out which face was familiar, while the other group was not.
The moral of the story?
Pigeons can tell the differences between human faces based on their characteristics.
And because birds also have excellent memories, we can also make the statement that they can recognize previous owners.
In conclusion, yes, parrots do have a long-term memory and it may actually be comparable to our own!
So the next time you meet someone with excellent memory – it’s okay to call them bird-brained – you’re actually giving them a compliment!