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A Flock of Two

Tuesday, February 22, 2011 - 07:00 PM

In today's short, we get to know a man who struggles, and mostly fails, to contain his violent outbursts...until he meets a bird who can keep him in check.

Animals rescue people all the time, but not like this. Jim Eggers is a 44-year-old man who suffers from a problem that not only puts his life at risk--it jeopardizes the safety of everybody around him. But with the help of Sadie, his pet African Grey Parrot, Jim found an unlikely (and seemingly successful) way to manage his anger. African Grey Parrot expert Irene Pepperberg helps us understand how this could work, and shares some insights from her work with a parrot named Alex.

And one quick note from our producer Pat Walters: Jim considers Sadie to be a “service animal,” a designation under the Americans with Disabilities Act that protects the rights of individuals with disabilities to bring certain animals into public places. The federal government recently redefined the term service animal to include only dogs and miniature horses. And while Jim disagrees with the change, he says he hasn’t run into any problems yet—in fact, the local bus company has already told him they’ll make an exception for Sadie. 


Irene Pepperberg


Pat Walters


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Comments [54]

Andrea Bellini from Oakland, CA

A Love Poem inspired today...
To Jim and Sadie,
with Love xoxo
by Andrea Bellini

I carry you on my back
And we see the world together.
Wide open fields and steel cages cannot keep us apart.
It is my heartbeat’s rhythm that concerns you,
guides you, makes you move closer to yourself.

When I came to you I was plucking out my own feathers
And couldn't ask for what I needed.
But you knew,
and I bowed my head.

You knew my name.
You polished my song
until I grew strong enough to sing it again.
Waited while I shook off each ruffled feather
and felt my worth again.

Don’t stress.
Calm down.
You said.
Don’t stress, calm down.
I didn't believe you at first.
So I shouldn't judge their doubt.

They question whether our love is real,
this transcending connection possible.
We cannot afford these Earthling questions,
and hence we train ourselves
to acquire the hard-earned taste for questions themselves.

We do not need proof and evidence
when we become Love.
We are a flock of two,
and one plus one will always be at the very least three.

You reminded me that the unaccountable can doubt our Love
but never take it away.
And so we believed more today than yesterday,
and less than tomorrow.

Feb. 13 2016 05:07 PM
Becky A. Yeats from earth

This is an extremley interesting topic. It is strange to think that people actually have these disorders. He seems as if he needs medicine for this type of disorder. It's great that this man ran into the right people and got the type of therapy he needed with this bird. Animals and people can tend to have a bond that we can't even comprehend. This man needed something to keep him out of the trouble he could possibly get into. This bird gained the ability to tell him to calm down and help him out and without this he might not be able to live the life he normally lives. He even got to carry the bird around with him.

Nov. 10 2014 10:01 PM
Morgine from SW Washington

Alex was about the most famous African Gray ever. He knew over 100 words. He could tell the color of objects, even if you held up a credit card. He could tell the difference between shapes, how many corners an object had and more. A NOVA video. I have been a professional animal communicator for almost 2 decades and YES Sadie does understand a lot more than most humans give her credit for. Remember it is humans, not animals, who are poisoning the planet they live in, abusing animals and nature. Yet we "assume" we can define the intelligence of these amazing creatures by standards we refuse to judge ourselves by. I am very sorry you lost your brother. It was not your fault. I hope some day you are completely healed and Sadie can sing you songs instead of need to calm you down. Thank you for sharing your story. I believe you totally!

Apr. 06 2014 01:57 AM
Ellie from Pasadena, California

I love Radiolab for it not only introduces me to new things, but often whisks me to new wonders of discovery and thinking and this program on the African Grey Parrot and Jim was truly one of those programs. Thank you for that Radiolab and also to the many people who commented on their experiences with these birds!

Twenty five years ago, I watched a program showing Dr. Irene Pepperberg working with her African Grey Parrot Alex and was amazed how this bird was able to pick objects from a tray based on texture, color and shape as she called these out.

It was truly amazing to see now that African Grey Parrots have some capacity to pick up emotion, something pretty much attributed to mammals. However, I have read that birds evolved from dinosaurs, and that there is speculation dinosaurs may have been warm blooded, so perhaps the emotional component is not that far off, but we are dealing with human emotions here, which are communicated by us through facial expression. These birds did not evolve to recognize human facial expressions.

There must be something else, working through either light (as one post indicated), or some other physical property that birds evolved as social animals to pick up. That still leaves the cognition for symbolism capability. For some time, we thought only humans and great apes have the tools and cognition for symbolism. With birds, seems like that's out the window now! :)

But isn't that the beauty of science? It changes our view as we uncover more of it. Efforts to confirm that Sadie's amazing responses to Jim were authentic, evidently created emotional let downs for several people but I only saw this as a scientific confirmation, not a Jim credibility confirmation. If our view of what we know is to change, we want to make sure that rests on solid ground. In fact that's exactly why science exists. Thanks Radiolab!!

Apr. 06 2014 12:13 AM
HNA from Madison, WI

I am new to Radiolab. I have to say that after listening to many archived episodes, this one disappointed me. Other listeners here seem to share my sentiments. I have no doubt that Sadie helps Jim in a profound and, perhaps to humans, incomprehensible way. The host's inability to verify this for his own satisfaction was slightly annoying and trivial. Isn't it enough that Sadie has done what humans can't do? Isn't it enough that this man has chosen to share an intimate part of his life with us? What reason would he have to lie? None. This will not lead him to fame and fortune. In fact it's just another story to add to the hundreds of others out there that indicate animals are far more capable of feelings and understanding than humans can fathom. Good luck to you Jim and thank you Sadie!

Dec. 11 2012 10:52 AM
Chris from Michigan

I know that our African Grey is smart but not until I was teaching it colors was it most apparent. We had been learning yellow,pink and green and so decided to test the bird. I put a piece of white paper for him to see and asked him "what color?"
And his reply was every color that he knew yello, pink, green. And when I said "no" and left the room he said after 5 minutes of thinking on the matter, "Hey, special paper" (something we had never taught him to say) and so he received this reward of the paper to tear apart. This is not the only time he has correctly responded. When I did not know where my husband had run off to, I asked the bird where he went and his response was " Daddy went golfing on the Harley." And lo and behold he had gone golfing and took the Harley there. When my peach faced love bird passed away one spring, I had to bury it and was off to do the dirty deed when from the house the African grey asked, "where's Beaker going?" And on returning was crying and had to explain that Beaker had died and it made me sad when he talked about him and copied his chirp and that was the last I ever heard about my old friend or his chirp from our Grey. So many times he has imitated my husband coming home and saying "hi honey, I'm home!" Even fooling the dogs. And when he does fool us, chuckles at us for checking it out.
So when people say birds are just copying or mimicking humans, I know that this is not the case.
He is an intrical part of our family. Well worth listening to.

Dec. 03 2012 11:03 AM
Bruce Fulton

What were the musical selections used for the Parrot segment?

Dec. 02 2012 11:45 PM
Mary from Burbank, CA

Dearest Jim,
I just want to let you know how much I felt for you when I heard about your brother's drowning and what you went through. I lost my brother in a tragic accident as well, and I struggle with this same thing sometimes... It was not your fault, Jim. I am glad to hear that you are doing well.

Dec. 01 2012 11:09 PM

Jim, I believe you. My husband and I have rescued an African Grey and we have NO DOUBT that these amazing birds(and other species, as well)are indeed able to assist their flock-mates in many ways. What a blessing you have been to Sadie! It's very sweet that she is also a blessing to you. Thank you for sharing your story with NPR.

Dec. 01 2012 04:38 PM
SpEducator from WA, USA

Jim, I believe you. My husband and I have rescued an African Grey and we have NO DOUBT that these amazing birds(and other species, as well)are indeed able to assist their flock-mates in many ways. What a blessing you have been to Sadie! It's very sweet that she is also a blessing to you. Thank you for sharing your story with NPR.

Dec. 01 2012 04:27 PM

I wanted to thank you for this story. After a long day of work and errands, before returning to my house, I sat in my car in the dark for an extra 10 minutes just so that I could hear this one to the end. Kudos to creating a captivating story covering both quirky (an insightful parrot) and sensitive subject matter. At the same time, I wanted to share that somehow, I felt bad when you chose to second-guess the veracity of the personal and heartfelt claims the interviewee had been describing at length--the claims his parrot was able to tell him to "calm down" at just the right moment. This was a moving story of finding one's way to a better life, and the coverage stopped short for me at that point. Something about that did not feel right to me. Are the lab researcher's claims more believable, and why? And perhaps journalistically, it is the "right" formula to verify what an interviewee says, but here, it felt unjustified and, to me, hurtful. I am sure this was not your intention, and I do greatly appreciate having heard this story, but perhaps it is useful to hear how the ending of it was received.

Nov. 29 2012 09:45 PM
Rose Packard

I have an African grey parrot named Einstein. He's been with me since 1996. When my significant other, Bill, died in August of 2011, Einstein kept speaking in Bill's voice (a bit unsettling at first), which now proves a comfort to me.

These birds have an uncanny way of expressing themselves, very often appropriately to the situation at hand. Since they live a very long time, they actually become a member of the family.

Nov. 15 2012 07:23 PM
Dawn from North Carolina

I heard this program Friday night and just wanted Jim to know I believe him that Sadie helps with his anger. She may not have "performed" for the rest of us to hear, but what is important is that she makes the difference in Jim's life and he knows why - because of Sadie. My boyfriend has an African Grey named Suzie and she interacts with him all the time. Yes, I taught her things to say, but she's the one that determines when to say them. He said when he's had a rough day at work, she will pipe up and say "Oh Lloyd, I love you." He told me how can that not brighten your day when it just comes out of the blue.
As for interacting with me, one day I was trying to clean her cage and in my exasperation of her pecking on me and trying to walk all over the floor, I picked her up and put her on top of the cage. I hadn't said a thing, yet she looked at me and said "What's the matter?" (Apparently she had heard that phrase enough in our everyday talk to pick it up.) I looked at her and said "You're the matter, you won't stay put." She just clucked, shook her head and proceeded to stay put. So, Jim, you continue to keep Sadie in your life and know that there are people out here that believe you.

Mar. 04 2012 11:09 AM
bk from Vancouver

I am not very surprised about this. In fact, my dog comes over and attempts to lick my mouth/face and stays calmly on my lap whenever I deeply sigh or say F word or S-word out of frustration /anger. He's not readily cuddly with me otherwise.
I believe it's a learned behavior in combination with sensory stimuli such as heartbeat, smell etc.

Whatever it is, it works for me and my husband as no one can have heated argument or frustrated moment for too long in this house as long as our dog is around.

Feb. 02 2012 08:05 PM
Regina Rodriguez-Martin from Chicago

Jeff A from Canada - I'm not saying that there aren't people with mental illness who become violent, I'm saying I wince at stories that focus on violence in mental illness because many people DON'T understand that we don't have to fear that which is different from us. Analogy: sure "dumb blondes" exist, but it's still a painful and dangerous stereotype that we don't need to feed.

Oct. 13 2011 11:01 AM
Elliott Malkin from Brooklyn

I'd like to share another story about an African Grey parrot who provided great comfort to a man in need:

Thanks for this story,

Aug. 31 2011 05:31 PM
tenshi from NY

as someone with some anger management issues...and who has an african grey...i not only believe it, i have experienced this, myself. my birds keep me from the falling off the edge, too, especially my grey, who tells me he loves me when it's really, really bad.

Jul. 25 2011 06:13 PM
ThingOne7 from GA

As a teacher who has specialized in working with those students who are labelled "at-risk" I applaud this man for letting you into his life. I was dissappointed that an emphasis toward the end was -does this bird "really" talk this man down-....
As a person who is fortunate enought to live with an African Grey and others... I know that these birds often are quite sensitive to altered conditions. So there are things that reflect sentience that often occur for a particular audience. I have experienced this firsthand... and I am not always the one privy to a parrot's verbal communications.
I do realize the danger of anthropromorphic assumption, but granted Radio Lab often addresses how little we know about the brains of animal and human alike.
I liked his response that reflected the assertion he had nothing to prove. He heard it... and that is enough. How much frustration this interview added to his life .. we may never know. The interviewer has a responsibility that many in the public at large may not care about.
Muckrakers are often praised for their "hard-hitting" investigations... and the resultant change in legislation... but that was not often their aim. They wanted to sell newspapers.. or magazines. It is just business with perks to society.
I love Radio Lab... and those who have made it their career. However, this episode concerned me... I am probably out of line... and over sensitive to the needs of those with regular and episodic debilitating issues.
I hope he truly understands and internalizes that what he feels or hears is valid enough.

Jul. 25 2011 05:28 PM
Lee in Oregon from USA

These birds are amazing and make great pets, my mother-in-law has had one for years and that bird is great company. This guy in the story, Jim, sounds like he needs more than a bird though.

Jul. 14 2011 06:32 PM
Carlo Maley from San Francisco

The ability of the parrot to anticipate her owner's episodes seems entirely reasonable. He had rewarded her for saying soothing things. We know that animals anticipate rewards queuing off of earlier and earlier stimuli associated with the reward (e.g., even hearing an experimenter walk down the hall to start the experiment). So, if she has felt his body tremors, riding on his back, in the past, and gotten a reward for repeating soothing things, it seems likely that she would associate the reward with the tremors and not need the stimulus of her owner saying soothing things for her to repeat.

May. 20 2011 09:02 PM
Jon Glassett

Can anyone help me identify the music played at the end of the podcast (from 18:49 to 19:08), please? I can't seem to find music credits anywhere.

May. 11 2011 10:55 AM
Rupert from Boston

the conclusion of this film :

suggests that something deeper than mere talking of the bird may be involved in calming Jim down.

May. 08 2011 12:35 PM

This was one of the first Radiolab podcasts I listened to and it hooked me, not just because of the compelling story, but also because of the creative presentation. Audiocandy for the ears really compliments the story. Nicely done!

May. 07 2011 05:01 PM
Janet Hilton from Charleston, SC

Sooo inspiring. Where ever did they come up with the term "birdbrain". These guys are smarter than most of the people I know.

Apr. 24 2011 08:33 AM
Bill Storm from Sacramento, CA

British scientist Rupert Sheldrake has done work specifically with African Grey parrots and other animals looking at this very phenomenon. You can see info on this work at Nkisi is the NYC parrot who was quite in tune with his owner's thoughts and feelings. Sheldrake insists this phenomenon is not "paranormal," but absolutely normal, but beyond our current ability to measure and quantify it. I'll be sending him the link to this story in the event he missed it.

Apr. 23 2011 07:11 PM
Sylvia Robin from Asheville, NC

I am very impressed by your program. Now our local NPR station has started playing them twice, once on Sat. after noon and then again on Sunday evening. I find myself listening to both broadcasts because they are so interesting. Keep up the good work.

Apr. 17 2011 07:40 PM
Jackie from Detroit, Michigan

On NPR (101.9 WDET) sometime between 1985 and 1991 (I was delivering pizza at this time, and used NPR to ease the boredom), there was the story of an African Grey that saw it's owner murdered. The parrtot wasn't allowed to testify despite screaming like the owner for the assailant to stop. At the same time a mother and father lost their child, and the husband found the bird at the local pet shop. He thought this would help give his wife something else, extremely intelligent, to focus on. After about a month at home and not bonding, the wife was disgusted and left the room and said something to the effect of "you stupid bird" and the bird replied "I am not dumb". They were inseperable since that point. This story focused on the amazing vocabulary and that their intelligence rivaled a 3 year old. I don't know if you can find it in the archives, this story supports the African Grey parrots' intelligence. On that note, you could spring board to cancer sniffing dogs, service dogs that predict seizures......etc. I'm sure there are hundreds of more stories like this. I was a little let down at the skepticism .....I thought everyone knew how intelligent the African Grey is in particular.

Apr. 17 2011 03:39 PM
Sherry L. Geer

Oh, my.... I trump you guys.. Hah. I have both an African Grey parrot (Cyrano Dah Birderac) & a bipolar daughter (who is 14 years old)...
As for "removing the stygma" of Bipolar being a violent condition... Um.. EVERY1 is different, & it does *indeed* exist. My daughter is extremely violent during episodes (& she has been a clear-cut kid case - not an easy diagnosis - since age 9), & a rapid cycler. I have had broken bones & bruises to disprove that Bipolar is just some *yawn* disorder that deserves no more treament/regard than a common allergy.... & if you are defending yourself from a child during an outburst, you risk injuring your child yourself.. Which is why they don't like to dispense Bipolar as a diagnosis to begin w/.
Cyrano has totally picked up on my daughter's condition, over the years... When she as an episode, he starts yelling, "STOP!!!", & he tells her to "Shut Up!" - which is NOT my doing, but he uses it in context.
He also whistles the themes for a few NPR shows, when they are about to air (All Things Considered, Talk of The Nation, & Faith Middleton's Food Schmooze).
He is an NPR junkie, just like his Momma.

Apr. 16 2011 04:20 PM
Teri from Central Illinois

Just listened to the parrot story. Pets are very sensitive to humans...they have evolved/been bred because of their companionship. I imagine that Jim's parrot riding on his back could feel changes in his muscle tension when he experienced mood swings. Sadie then, used phrases that Jim had taught her that he likes to hear.

I do not know birds but my dog is very sensitive to my emotions as well as any people in her territory. Her reactions range from jumping and kissing strangers to avoidance and growling. SHE KNOWS. Whether it be the scent we put off or our bodily posture, she knows whether someone is happy to see her or nervous. She treats them accordingly. She is especially caring and sensitive to my moods and tries to make me laugh or cuddles when I am feeling down.

Apr. 16 2011 01:34 PM
bend9554 from Berkeley, CA

More research that was recently published might augment the story:

Apr. 13 2011 11:36 AM
Jeff A from Canada

Sorry Regina Rodriguez-Martin, but I don't think that a story about someone who has bipolar disorder, which causes them to be sometimes happy and sometimes really happy, who has a pet iguana that has not affected them in any way, would be a great interest. The story is interesting because he has a serious issue and the bird helped him.
Sorry for being crude, but I think most people understand that not everyone who is different are people that we should be afraid of.

Apr. 04 2011 02:54 PM
Regina Rodriguez-Martin from Chicago

I winced when Jim was identified as having bipolar disorder and then described as being prone to violence and attacking others. There is so much fear of people with mental illness, I cringe when I hear anything that feeds the perception that we are violent and dangerous. Enough people already think that. In fact, most people with bipolar disorder are not at all dangerous to anyone but themselves, which is true of everyone with mental illness. If you ever want to do a story about someone with mental illness who isn't at all violent in any way, I'm available!

Apr. 04 2011 08:26 AM
Regina Rodriguez-Martin from Chicago

I winced when Jim was identified as having bipolar disorder and then described as being prone to violence and attacking others. There is so much fear of people with mental illness, I cringe when I hear anything that feeds the perception that we are violent and dangerous. Enough people already think that. In fact, most people with bipolar disorder are not at all dangerous to anyone but themselves, which is true of everyone with mental illness. If you ever want to do a story about someone with mental illness who isn't at all violent in any way, I'm available!

Apr. 04 2011 08:25 AM
Liz Wilson from Saint Simon's Island, GA

As someone who has lived and worked with parrots for over 40 years, I totally enjoyed this program. As a tremendous fan of Radio Lab, this doesn't surprise me! Keep up the good work!

Apr. 03 2011 10:34 AM
Jim Wheeler from Central Florida

I have an African Grey named Harry, and there is no question (with my 20-years with Harry) that such a bird not only understands what she's saying, but that she also recognized mood swings. I could give you several instances where Harry has put together small (2 or 3 word) sentences to tell me of her concerns. She (Harry is a female) talks to me throughout the day to tell me what she wants, and when she wants to go to sleep ("Goodnight sweetheart"). They are smarter than dogs, and guide dogs are capable of doing many more things than this story tells about the bird.

Mar. 29 2011 05:37 AM
Bambi from South fork of long island

Loved this. I knew an African grey who spoke in context and when I've spoken to others who knew or lived with one (owned doesn't seem like the right word) they always say the same. For humans to question the intelligence of animals because it is feel-based and exhibited in ways other than ours is a shame.
Thanks for the story

Mar. 26 2011 04:35 PM
BIRD TALK Magazine from Irvine, California

Hey RadioLab! The associate editor is an avid listener of your podcast (and a bit behind), and she heard your story about Sadie and Jim. It was a great podcast, and we hear these kind of stories all the time from our readers. To add to Dr. Pepperberg's comments, it's been theorized that parrots, because they can see in the ultraviolet range, can see changes in our moods through the capillaries of our faces. It's quite possible that Sadie can quite literally see Jim's moods and easily linked the words "calm down" to that visual change of an upcoming mood swing.

On another note, parrots don't always pick their feathers for stress reasons. If your parrot is picking its feathers, please take it to an avian veterinarian to make sure there isn't a medical reason for this.

Thanks for the great podcast!

Mar. 18 2011 06:38 PM
Kent Bassett

I was randomly listening to the Radiolab episode "Stress" today, and when I heard "Flock of Two" I associated it with the story of J. M. Barrie (author of Peter Pan) that Robert Sapolsky tells. Like Jim Eggers, Barrie's parents also unfairly blamed him for his brother dying and told him they wished it was him that died instead. And in Barrie's case it resulted in psychogenic dwarfism. It's crazy when two disparate stories come together like that.

Mar. 17 2011 02:05 AM

My great aunt has an African Grey named Charlie, whom she has had for 20 years or more. They are capable of sooooooo much actual, relational interaction.
Aunt Julia has many stories about Charlie, but one of my favorites is this. A teacher for many years, Aunt Julia would grab a banana on her way out the door every morning. One day she was very agitated and rushing, and forgot her banana. As she was about to walk out the door, Charlie squawked, "BANANA!"

Mar. 07 2011 12:26 PM
Gene from Akron, OH

I just want to say that I don't just like this show, it is dear to me like a friend or a prized possession full of sentimental value. I especially loved the "Animal Minds" episode with the story of the whale rescue and the "Memory and Forgetting" episode with its profound implications for the nature of consciousness. Besides maybe space, I think the greatest mysteries of our Universe lie in what exactly goes on within our minds and the minds of other animals. If we knew animal minds I think we might be in for an unpleasant surprise considering how cruelly we treat many animals. Why is it we assume that they do not suffer in the way we do? Is it so we can go on slaughtering and caging them wholesale?

Anyway, I'll get off my soapbox. I really wanted to write this comment to make a suggestion. Have you considered doing an episode on strange, scientifically interesting diseases? It's topic I have always found fascinating and I think most of your listeners would too, especially considering the proliferation of strange disease lists littering the interweb. For example, this website is pretty typical:

Mar. 06 2011 03:55 PM
Josh Kreydatus from San Francisco, CA

I find this story so charming!

Mar. 05 2011 01:04 PM
Trizzle from DC

Really love the show. I grew up with 2 yellow nape amazon parrots (who are both now almost 30), and my parents added an african grey a few years ago. Like the grey in your short, they all are incredibly good at reading all kinds of social cues - verbal, tonal, physical, and who knows, maybe even chemical, electrical, or something we don't have. I have a ton of examples of cool stuff they do, but here's one of the best:
When my grandmother stayed with us for a few weeks when I was a newborn, one of the yellow napes picked up her (very distinctive) laugh, and has had it ever since. He laughs when we laugh, but more interestingly, he laughs when someone tells a joke, and no human laughs. He's clearly not just copying us, but he's understanding when something is a joke and reacting appropriately.
It makes me wonder if some of the unknown senses you presented in the homing pigeons episode also give parrots some sense or perception that we don't yet know.
Sadly, it also makes me sad that such impressive and beautiful animals are stuck in a cage in DC and not flying around in the jungle with their buddies...

Feb. 28 2011 09:40 PM
Carol Andrew from Melbourne, Australia

Fantastic radiolab, what a gem, must agree with Grant from Vancouver though, please rescue a bird, as Jim did, but don't foster the trade in caged birds. Another rescued bird that is worth reading about is "Wesley the Owl", a delightful, witty and wise account of a 20 year relationship between a human and owl. There's got to be more to their understanding of us humans than we can comprehend......

Feb. 28 2011 12:55 AM

unfortunately, couldn't hear posting - all I got was an ad!

Feb. 27 2011 09:07 AM
Cynthia from Seattle

My husband and I have had an African grey parrot for almost twelve years. She has a vocabularly of well over 500 words and phrases, and she uses many of them correctly in context. Like most married people, my husband and I have intense discussions sometimes, and we bicker. If we do this in her presence, she does everything she can to stop us, including saying "Stop!" or "It's okay," or making other soothing noises. She'll say "I love you" or ask for a kiss, because she knows those two things will draw our attention to her (which in her opinion is exactly where it should be) and we'll stop our discussion. She will also say these things to me when I am mad or upset. She wants to know that everything is okay in her flock. Anyway, I'm sure Sadie can pick up on her owner's moods, and I think it's great she found a good home. These are extraordinary creatures, and they need lots of care and attention. They are much more challenging than a dog or cat, but in some ways they're more rewarding too.

Feb. 24 2011 04:25 PM
Carlyn from Portland, OR

I also am not at all surprised that Sadie can sense Jim's agitation. I grew up with an African Grey who I really took for granted since I was a kid and he was sort of like another sibling, but when I go back to my parents' house to visit I really see how amazing he is. He can clearly imitate all the different voices of my family members, and he always says, "Goodnight, boy," when my mom flips out the lights to go to bed.

When I went away for college, he was upset witht me for leaving and when I would come back to visit he would turn away from me when I came over to say hi and would snatch the treats I tried to offer him in his beak and throw them immediately to the ground in a very intentional-looking grumpy way. They are very sensitive, intelligent animals indeed!

I also second what Janice mentioned about them being quite shy--we often have guests who are disappointed that Stormy won't talk around them because they are strangers.

Feb. 24 2011 01:48 PM
grant from Vancouver Island

Anyone who lives with an African Grey understands how intuitive these birds are and how sensitive they are to the moods and health of their "flock."

Parrots do not adjust easily to lives as Pets! Please do not encourage the use of parrots as pets. If you are truly "up for" and prepared for what you're getting into, find one that needs rescuing, as Jim did.

Grant - advocate World Parrot Refuge

Feb. 24 2011 01:43 PM
John from Texas

I am a retired Neurologist. Despite the old saying that if your only tool is a hammer, every problem looks like a nail, I hope that Jim has seen a Neurologist and been tried on anticonvulsants for Reflex Epilepsy. He may well have Manic Depressive illness and Explosive Rage issues, but the "tingling" followed by Crazy Rage suggests a Seizure Disorder, that I also have no doubt his African Grey Sadie can pick up on. Worth considering, at least.

Feb. 23 2011 09:22 PM
Janice in GA from Duluth, GA

I totally believe his parrot can sense his moods & respond to them.

Years ago, I had an African Grey parrot. He spoke pretty well, and unfortunately imitated a LOT of other things, like my grey cheeked parakeet and the backup beep on my van. And he did it at parrot volume, which is LOUD.

I also taught him to say sweet things that would cheer me up. My mom kept him one week when I was on vacation. When I brought him back home he'd call "Janice -- where are you?" in my mom's voice. :)

One night he was sitting on top of his cage and I was cross-stitching. He started making loud, obnoxious noises. I warned him that if he didn't stop, I was going to put him in the cage and cover him up, as I did at bedtime. Of course, he didn't stop, so in frustration, I got up, snatched him off his perch, put him in his cage, covered it up, and sat back down.

A few minutes later, I hear this little parrot voice say "Mommy... I love you."

And yes, this was something I'd taught him to say. But the fact that he said it RIGHT THEN, in that situation, was what made it amazing. And no, there was no one else around to hear him. If there had been, he probably wouldn't have said it. Parrots are often shy about talking around other people.

So you only have my word that this happened. But experience like this are why I believe Mr. Eggers when he says his parrot senses his moods and responds appropriately.

Feb. 23 2011 02:39 PM
Jed from Baltimore, MD

My Uncle had an African Grey that would scold his Sphynx cat by yelling "Bad Cat!" if the cat would cause trouble, like digging into cardboard boxes in the house. They're incredibly intelligent birds.

Feb. 23 2011 11:38 AM

Is anyone else experiencing problems listening to this podcast? It keeps cutting out at 3:05.

Feb. 23 2011 08:49 AM
Carolin Carlin from Minneapolis

I have no doubt she can sense the brainstorm that causes temper outbursts. Service dogs have been used with epileptics for years because they can sense an oncoming seizure and give split second warning to the individual to prepare.

Feb. 23 2011 06:34 AM
Aliya from New York City

I have had Machupicchu, my sun conure, for two years now. Similarly, he never seems to be quite as emotive around other people, but I have experienced exactly what Sadie does for Jim with him. Sun conures aren't known for their speaking abilities, so Mach hasn't been able to explicitly tell me to calm down (yet!), but when I am upset, his demeanor and noises change immediately--he makes soft "kissing" sounds that he's learned, and nuzzles me behind my ears. I am convinced that parrots, as inherently social creatures, are very keen to pick up on the habits of their "flock," and will act accordingly when they see their flockmates in distress. They are great friends.

And I admit, I too have used the term "service animal" when taking him on public transit. I may not have an anger problem, but on long train/bus/car rides, Mach is a great companion.

Feb. 23 2011 01:36 AM
Cindy Henley from St. Louis MO

I live in St. Louis... It is an interesting story... I have a friend who uses public transportation all the time here and called her to see if she had happened to see the guy with the parrot... If she had she pays attention to every detail of what goes on around her, unfortunately, she had not. But I bet SOMEBODY has witnessed the communication between the two of them... I am going to try to figure it out... I have a couple of friends in the area who are bird people who might know him.

Feb. 22 2011 09:37 PM

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