Animal Cognition

, Volume 9, Issue 4, pp 377-391

First online:

Grey parrot numerical competence: a review

  • Irene M. PepperbergAffiliated withDepartment of Psychology, Brandeis UniversityDepartment of Psychology, Harvard University, William James Hall, Vision Science Center Email author 

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The extent to which humans and nonhumans share numerical competency is a matter of debate. Some researchers argue that nonhumans, lacking human language, possess only a simple understanding of small quantities, generally less than four. Animals that have, however, received some training in human communication systems might demonstrate abilities intermediate between those of untrained nonhumans and humans. Here I review data for a Grey parrot (Psittacus erithacus) that has been shown to quantify sets of up to and including six items (including heterogeneous subsets) using vocal English labels, to comprehend these labels fully, and to have a zero-like concept. Recent research demonstrates that he can also sum small quantities. His success shows that he understands number symbols as abstract representations of real-world collections, and that his sense of number compares favorably to that of chimpanzees and young human children.


Parrot Numerical ability Cognition