CHICAGO - Calling someone "birdbrain" is not as insulting as you might think.
New research suggests that parrots, like chimps and dolphins, are capable of mastering complex intellectual concepts that children cannot handle until age 5.
Pet experts gathering in Chicago on Friday for an American Veterinary Association forum believe the parrot's intelligence is why the bird has grown faster in popularity than any other pet over the past decade.
Irene Pepperberg, an ecologist and evolutionary biologist at the University of Arizona who studies the intelligence of parrots, has focused her studies on a bird she bought at a Chicago pet store in 1977.
The parrot, Alex, can name 50 objects when shown them, knows colors and numbers up to eight and even understands the concepts of same and different.
"All of the tests we've done with dolphins and great apes to investigate their intelligence, we've done with Alex," Pepperberg said. "He scored as well as they did in many of them, better in some."
Intelligence doesn't always equal a good pet, however. Experts said parrots can be domineering.
"I have seen entire families, their German shepherd included, buffaloed by a bird," said Chris Davis, a parrot psychology expert. "They are never subservient."
But Liz Wilson, a parrot-behavior consultant from Philadelphia, said she has heard of cases in which people come home feeling blue and their parrot asks: "Is something wrong?"
"You have to earn their love. I like that," she said.