Von wegen Spatzenhirn

Parrot intelligence – proofs with videos

In all media we regularly hear about intellectual performances of animals. Especially monkeys, dolphins, dogs, crows and parrots astonish particularly with cognitive abilities.

It is however strange that science considers little these results or on the contrary estimates them as very spectacular or at the same time criticizes them as scientifically not convincing. Why this disagreement in a sector, which employs thousands of researchers and concerns more or less millions of animal owners? It seems that clear proofs for animal intelligence are inaccessible or apparent missing.

Unusual intelligence achievements are well-known, but rarely someone saw them. Always the same films and reports are shown of many current “animal genius”. A famous high-intelligent African grey parrot presents in the laboratory continuously the same short extracts of its repertory and the gorilla with IQ 90, which communicates with sign language, keeps its secrets for itself.

There are however exceptions: for example the intelligent Border Collie Rico, which shows its abilities live in TV. Exactly as Mark Steigers parrots, which let themselves be tested regularly in dozens of public demonstrations and television broadcasts. Or the African Grey Parrot Lora Eston!

“Over 40 years ago I saw in the Sarrasani Circus the act of the African Grey Lora Eston and its trainer. This show had convinced me more than all legends on speech talented and intelligent parrots.” explains Mark Steiger. “I try to persuade the spectators exactly the same of the true capacities of my birds.”

All the studies and results accessible to the public about animal intelligence in the whole world are based on very few experiments on famous animals during the period of the last hundred years. They are generally documentaries filmed in laboratories, of which nobody knows with what effort and under which circumstances they were produced. Sometimes there exist even only descriptions or photographs. “Regularly I receive requests for demonstrations, TV-shows and reports” tells Mark Steiger. “The public, the scientists and TV-producers know the lack of strong evidence for animal intelligence and consequently contact me therefore . My parrots show live and really the performances that I announce - without exaggeration or understatement!”

The following eight videos show intelligence achievements of Mark Steigers parrots. When passing with the mouse pointer over the video titles you’ll receive an exact description, after a mouse-click the video appears a few seconds later.






The videos you can see here originate from television broadcasts or documentary films with Mark Steiger's parrots. All tests show average achievements of the parrots and can be repeated at will.


Parrots recognize colours, shapes and numbers up to six. They understand mechanical processes, they memorize colours of objects, they act logically (correction of errors, sequential problem solving) and they use tools - all this is demonstrated in Mark Steiger shows.

“I am convinced that we could obtain even better results with longer practice. E.g. in the number test it would probably be possible to go up to seven or eight points instead of limiting at six” says Mark Steiger. “However it is more important to constantly consider the well-being of the parrots. It would be a clear proof of ignorance and human stupidity to let animals suffer just to prove their intelligence with records".


Of course, some tests are inextricably linked: e.g. as a condition for the memory test the recognition of colors and forms is essential and mechanical understanding is necessary for the sequential problem solving.


Certain smaller species (African grey, amazons) have the capacity to imitate very precisely voices and noises and can associate words and sentences with objects and events. Unfortunately macaws and cockatoos are not very talented talkers.

The speaking of parrots has nothing (or very few) to do with intelligence. It is however fascinating for the spectator and helps for the realisation of certain tests (e.g. number test; an exact explanation you will find under “recognizing numbers”).


Recognizing colours
Recognizing shapes
Recognizing numbers
Comprehension of mechanisms
Correcting errors

The parrot recognizes colours.

All the coloured pawns have the same form.

The video shows how the blue and gold macaw Saphir places 12 pawns of various colours on the corresponding fields.

Video: “Der grosse Haustiertest - live” (Germany, SAT1; May 5th, 2005)

The parrot recognizes shapes.

All forms have the same grey colour.

The video shows how the greenwing macaw Ruby places correctly 8 different parts of a puzzle (and corrects also a proper error).

Video: documentary film “Kluge Vögel (French title: “Ces drôles d’oiseaux”) by Volker Arzt and Immanuel Birmelin (Germany, WDR, 2006; France, ARTE, 2006)

The parrot recognizes quantities up to 6.

The spectator places freely up to 6 magnetized points on a small black panel. The panel is suspended in front of the parrot and this one selects the number corresponding on a table with a choice of six possibilities.

Without any doubt there is no “Clever Hans Effect”, at which the animal interprets and acts according to the behaviour of the trainer or the spectators.

The video shows how the hyacinth macaw Luna recognizes the quantity of points on a suspended board and raises on a table the equivalent number. Dr. Franck Grammont, neurophysiologist of University Nice (France) controls and comments the test.

Mark Steiger is convinced that the parrot can neither count nor calculate, but that it recognizes the quantity with an estimate: “If one cannot count (e.g. if the objects to be counted move continuously, like flying birds), one tries to estimate the quantity. The larger the number of objects to be estimated is, the more the estimate becomes difficult. Therefore I do not go beyond 6 points, because it becomes probably too inaccurate”.

“I do not pretend that a bird could not learn how to count or calculate, however the problem of communication between parrot and humans should be solved before. I am unfortunately not able to explain arithmetic to a parrot”.

The proof for the recognition of numbers is more easily realizable with a talking parrot! The hyacinth macaw Luna which shows this test must seek the number of points in a choice of six possibilities. This means it must recognize twice the correct number to be able to compare: once on the suspended panel and then on the table. For a talking parrot it is simpler: it associates the number of points with the learned word. Hyacinth macaws speak little and the words are hardly to be understood.

Video: "30 Millions d'Amis" (France3, 11/22/2008); "Intelligente Tiere" (Germany, MDR-Umschau, 06/02/2010).

The parrot removes up to 30 keys in shortest time of a key-ring.

The video shows how the umbrella cockatoo Smudge removes 20 keys in one minute of a key-ring in the Italian TV-show “CIRCO MASSIMO SHOW” (GUINNESS WORLD RECORD).

Video: “Circo Massimo Show ” (Italy, RAI; June 27th, 2007); "Parrot World Record" (21/12/2001)

The parrot corrects the erroneous position of 12 pawns.

The video shows how initially 12 pawns of various colours are posed by the presenters on different colour fields. The blue and gold macaw Saphir corrects all the errors in accordance with the correct colours.

Video: “La Nuit des Records” (France, FR2 ; Octobre 14th, 2006)

The parrot associates 7 colours with different shapes.

The parrot knows the combinations by heart. However for security they are always shown to him before the test.

The two films show how the greenwing macaw Ruby proves its capacity in a challenge against a eight year old boy and against the French singer Eve Angeli.

Video : « Intelligente Papageien - PLANETOPIA » (Germany, SAT1, 28/06/2009); « Hitmachine » (France, M6, 28/04/2007)



Mark Steiger

"Le Tour du Monde"

9, rue de Cannes

06150 Cannes



Mobile: 0033-(0)6 09 84 05 07




Well known German ethologist Immanuel Birmelin describes in his book how much he was surprised by the cognitive abilities of Mark Steiger's parrots during the shooting of the film "Kluge Vögel" ("Clever Birds"; "Ces Drôles d'Oiseaux").

You can find the chapter "Die Ueberraschung" on Google Books by clicking on this link!

(Google Books, Von wegen Spatzenhirn - Kosmos Verlag)

Sequential problem solving to open a door with several mechanical locks

Cockatoo picks locks

It is clear that the parrot knows the sequence by heart after several times and this test becomes only an interesting demonstration for sequential problem solving.

Cockatoo Smudge opens in correct order several locks with different opening devices. The final goal - opening the door - is subdivided into partial targets and these in turn into individual steps or actions that have to be solved consecutively.

In short, the parrot must understand that the door can only be opened when all the locks are open and that this is only possible  if they are unlocked in the correct order because each lock locks the next one. For example only if the locking bar is already open the switching lock can be turned at all.

Use of a key as a tool to open a genuine door lock

Cockatoo Smudge uses a previously selected key to unlock a genuine door lock. After he opens the door with the door handle.
The use of tools by parrots is already known for a long time: e.g. they use pieces of wood to reach newspaper paper or objects under the cage's floor bars. These "tools" are even bitten appropriately in length and thickness. This ability is thus not only shown as being taught, but can also be genetically pre-programmed.
For Smudge's performance the understanding of mechanisms (see above) and the capacity of a sequential problem solution (see above) is necessary, too. The second film of the video shows a routine in which all three proofs of intelligence are combined. This  bird certainly has a extraordinary mind!

Video: "SuperPets - the most talented pets in the world" (SAT1, Germany 2016)


Sequential problem solving by parrots
Use of tools by parrots