Parrots are often considered among the most intelligent bird species.
While the average parrot’s brain is the size of a walnut, PNAS explains how they have the same number of neurons as primates, which is reflected in a parrot’s impressive memory span.
Experiments show that parrots can maintain short-term memory for at least 15 seconds, especially when imitating the actions and speech of human owners.
If the parrot enjoys these experiences, the events will be stored in its long-term memory.
Long-term memory lasts the duration of a parrot’s life. The parrot will retain memories of anything important, including food sources, safety hazards, preferred human faces, and words.
Once a parrot commits a word, event, or location to memory, it won’t be forgotten.
How Good is a Parrot’s Memory?
Parrots have excellent memories, especially in the longer term. To fully understand the function of parrots’ memory, we must understand the different types.
As explained by Progressive Brain Research, these break down as follows:
|Short-term memory:||Stores information and data essential to immediate survival and activity.|
|Working memory:||Used to manipulate information in short-term memory and complete tasks.|
|Long-term memory:||Used to store important recollections about surroundings and terrain.|
While parrots are capable of forming short-term memories, it’s their ability to retain information for prolonged periods that’s most interesting.
Do Parrots Have Short-Term Memory?
Parrots frequently show examples of short-term memory.
For example, if you demonstrate a game with your parrot, such as dunking a small basketball in a desktop hoop, the parrot will quickly learn how to play it.
Another example is their understanding of shapes. The Journal of Vision stated that parrots could distinguish cognitive challenges involving shapes when a human confirms their name and distinct outline.
This could be considered a working memory. Equally, the parrot may be repeating a human activity. This repetition is still linked to short-term memory, with Nature confirming that parrots form short-term memories that last at least 15 seconds.
Do Parrots Have Long-Term Memory?
Parrots have an undeniably impressive long-term memory.
According to Biology Letters, a small wild bird will retain memories about food availability for at least 2 years. As long-lived animals, parrots need a lengthier memory.
Formal studies into long-term memory in parrots are harder to find, but anecdotal evidence suggests that parrots maintain excellent recollections of people, events, language, and speech.
But the question remains, how long is a parrot’s memory? Perhaps the best insight into this was Alex, the African grey subject of the book Alex & Me by Dr. Irene Pepperberg.
Alex and Dr. Pepperberg lived together for 30 years, and Alex was communicative and recognized his owner until his death. This suggests that a parrot won’t lose its memory throughout its lifespan.
One explanation is the absence of Glycogen synthase kinase 3 genes in birds. This gene is found in mammals and humans and is believed to lead to inflammation connected to Alzheimer’s disease.
As parrots don’t have the GSK3 gene, they are seemingly unaffected by a cognitive decline that leads to memory loss. If the parrot seems not to recall something, it’s likely not deemed important enough to memorize in the first place.
What Parrot Has the Best Memory?
The African grey parrot is often considered among the smartest of these birds, with the widest vocabulary. Remember, Alex was an African grey.
A study in Nature adds weight to this belief, suggesting that the African Grey parrot also has a memory superior to that of Harvard University undergraduates.
The study involved hiding a colored pompom under a series of identical cups and asking the parrot and human participants to remember which cup housed the pompom. The parrot defeated the children and frequently outperformed the adult participants.
This suggests that the African grey parrot has the best memory of all psittacine species, especially when provided with a visual learning cue to memorize. However, these birds also demonstrate an excellent ability to memorize speech patterns.
What Do Parrots Remember?
Parrots remember things that are most important to them.
When you adopt a parrot, it will quickly memorize the layout of your home and learn where it’s safe to exercise and which parts of the property should be avoided.
Parrots will also memorize where to find food or water sources. This is a holdover from wild instinct, as birds observe terrain from a safe distance and learn where to find sustenance with minimal danger.
You may also find that your parrot stashes food. As per the Canadian Journal of Psychology, wild birds create food caches and understand which have been raided by other animals.
You’ll also note that the parrot will remember words and songs it hears, the faces and scents of human owners and visitors to your home, and other birds’ behavior – whether friendly or antagonistic.
Do Parrots Remember Words?
It becomes clear to new owners that parrots remember words they overhear. Consequently, avoiding using language you don’t want the parrot to repeat in polite company is advisable.
This raises the question of how parrots remember words. The answer is through mimicry and imitation. When a parrot hears a new sound, it’ll seek to imitate it.
This could be a word in any language, a song, or even noise, such as a whistling kettle.
If the parrot finds this sound pleasurable, it’ll continue doing so. Parrots don’t necessarily understand the meaning of the language they use – they acknowledge how it feels to speak or sing and will pay close attention if they garner a reaction.
If you’re keen to teach the parrot new words, keep repeating them in their company. This will eventually sink into the parrot’s brain.
If the parrot uses the word or phrase, praise it because it’ll recall the pleasure and seek to repeat the experience.
Do Parrots Remember Other Birds?
Wild parrots forge complex bonds with each other, potentially mating for life as long as reproduction remains viable. Captive parrots kept in pairs and groups will also bond with each other, showing signs of grief and loneliness when separated.
Parrots will also force hierarchical structures in groups, as per The Auk. This suggests that parrots can remember a positive or antagonistic interaction with another bird and adjust their behavior.
Like all aspects of parrot memory, this is a survival mechanism. Parrots must avoid larger, predatory birds of prey and snakes in the wild, avoiding territory where their enemies are known to dwell.
In the home, parrots recall other animals. If a parrot shares a home with a mammalian pet like a cat or dog, it’ll quickly learn and recall if they have a high prey drive.
Do Parrots Remember Humans?
Parrots also forge significant relationships with humans.
As explained by Animal Cognition, pigeons can distinguish human faces. This suggests that parrots, believed to be significantly smarter, can do the same.
As it’s established that parrots have long-term memory, they’ll recall abuse or mistreatment. Proceedings of the Association of Avian Veterinarians stated that captive parrots experience PTSD.
This makes sense because parrots frequently get excited when an owner or favorite human enters a room. Also, parrots can shy away from certain humans, showing signs of fear upon sight.
Keep this in mind if you rehome your parrot. If you’re wondering, “do parrots remember their old owners” the answer is yes – your bird will recall you on sight.
A popular idiom claims that elephants never forget, but this applies to parrots. Always assume that a parrot will remember words, territory, and family members, adjusting its behavior accordingly.