Who’s a pretty clever boy then?

A SIX-YEAR-OLD parrot with a 950-word vocabulary, a sense of humour and alleged powers of telepathy is forcing a rethink of the scope for animals and humans to communicate

A captive-bred African grey called N'kisi is one of the most advanced users of human language in the animal world.

The bird uses words in context, with past, present and future verb tenses.

And like small children it resorts to creativity to describe new ideas saying "flied" for flew and the phrase "pretty smell medicine" to indicate the aromatherapy oils used by his owner, a New York-based artist.

He can also associate photographs with the real person or object when he first met primatologist Dr Jane Goodall, after seeing her in a picture with apes, his greeting was: "Got a chimp?"

He also displays dry humour. When another parrot hung upside down from its perch, he quipped: "You got to put this bird on the camera."

Dr Goodall judges N'kisi's eagerness to learn to speak with his owner as an "outstanding example of interspecies communication" but new evidence suggests the parrot's skills may not stop with the verbal.

In an experiment witnessed on videotape by BBC Wildlife Magazine's contributor Eleanor O' Hanlon, N'kisi and his owner were put in separate rooms and filmed as the artist opened various random envelopes that contained picture cards.

On analysis, N'kisi used appropriate keywords three times more often than might result by chance, even when the researchers discounted responses such as "What ya doing on the phone?" when a card showed a man with a telephone and "Can I give you a hug?" after a card of a couple embracing.

The findings, reported in February's edition of BBC Wildlife Magazine, are controversial but O'Hanlon points out that several studies are underway into communications between species, prompting fresh thinking on animal intelligence.

Professor Donald Broom, of Cambridge University's School of Veterinary Medicine, said: "The more we look at the cognitive abilities of animals, the more advanced they appear."

"The biggest leap of all has been with parrots."

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