The Real Pebbles

Years ago, I bought Carol a female baby green cheeked Amazon (Amazona viridigenalis C.) which she immediately named Pebbles. She was so young that she was all pin-feathers and Carol had to feed her with an eye dropper. Since Carol had a background in psychology and I in ethology, neither one of us was inclined to read human motivation into the bird’s behavior. However we were interested in her inclination toward language, so Carol decided to treat her as if she harbored the same sort of undeveloped intelligence as a baby human.

Carol made no attempt to teach her to talk. That is, she did not endlessly repeat phrases over and over to her nor drill her in any sort of way. What she has done since, every single evening before covering her cage for the night, is spend some time scratching her head and talking to her.

Within a few months, Pebbles began calling out to Carol by name, and not long after that began calling out to us when she wanted things, such as, “I want out!” In time, she was telling us about how she felt about things such as, “I don’t like it!” She began asking us questions such as, “How are you?” and, “Am I coming?” After a few years, she was not only asking questions, but talking about things removed in place and time, such as, “Is Carol at work?” and, “You’ll be all right.”

Pebbles also has a sense of self. She always correctly refers to herself as the subject, “I,” and she calls herself a “bird.” She loves to watch films and shortly after watching The Dinosaurs, said, “I’m a dinosaur.” To say that she uses her words in the proper context is an understatement. Her contextual usage is every bit as correct as that of a typical two year old human. What she is not is fluently conversant. Only now, after living with her for decades, are we managing to converse with her. After saying things back and forth two or three times, the conversation usually stops.

Here is a list of her words that we are certain of. She may have a repertoire of as many as a hundred words, but frequency and clarity limit us to these seventy. They are not listed in nice columns because of the contrary behavior of this website.

a, about, all, almonds, am, are, at, baby, bad, bad dord (bastard?), be, bear, bird, bye, care, Carol, come, coming, dinosaur, do, doing, duck, fair, for, girl, going, good, got, has, he, hello, here, how, I, it, is, know, like, look, love, nightmare not, now, okay, out, Pebbles, ready, right, rubber, school, sorry, talking, thank, that, the, they, to, up, wake, want, weird, well, what, where, will, work, wrong, yea (yow), yeap (yip), you.

And her phrases:

All right. All right! All right? Almonds. Am I coming? Am I going? Am I going to school? Are you coming? Are you going to school? Bad! Bad dord! (bastard?) Bad girl!
Bear! Bye. Come here. Carol! Hello. How are you? How are you are you all right? How are you are you okay? I don’t care! I don’t like it. I know it. I know what you’re talking about. I like it. I look all right. I love you. I’m a bird. I’m a dinosaur. I’m a good, good, good, good bird. I’m a good, good, good, good girl. I’m all right. I’m ready. I’m sorry. I’m the baby. I’m the Pebbles. Is Carol at work? I want out. Okay. Okay? Right now! Rubber duck! Thank you. That’s not fair! That’s right. Wake up. Well come here. What is that? What is wrong? What’s he doing? What’s he got? What’s that? What’s that for? What’s wrong? What’s you doing? Where are you going? Where are they at? Yea!(yow) Yeap! (yip) You coming? You going to come here? You’ll be all right. You’re all right.

We did not by any means teach her to talk. Her ability to talk is a capacity that comes from her own DNA. She can communicate using a code of arbitrary sounds about things removed in place and time because it has survival value for her species. Providence only knows what sort of languages she might be using had she stayed in the Mexican wilds.

Our character Pebbles, Hubba Hubba’s wife, behaves like an Amazon, but is fluently conversant, and appears in each of the books in the Heart of the Staff: Complete Series:  Good Sister, Bad Sister, The Collector Witch, Stone HeartThe Burgeoning, The Reaper Witch, and Doom.

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Tom Phipps

2 thoughts on “The Real Pebbles

  1. WOW! That is an amazing story about Pebbles. My kids would love this. It makes me rethink getting a bird as a pet. I can see my son talking to a bird everyday, although perhaps your bird is extraordinary? I’ve not heard of such facility for language before. Is this all true or woven with fiction? 🙂

    • Hi Tam,

      Every word is true. Pebbles is now nearly 20 years old and we have carefully recorded (written down) each new word and phrase during all this time.

      I don’t know about other birds, but I simply talked to her as if she were intelligent enough to understand…and just like a small child she began putting the language together quite on her own. Even after all this time she manages to surprise us when she comes up with a new word or phrase…which, by the way has been an ongoing process.

      I suggest you do a bit of research before you invest in a parrot as a pet. For one thing different breeds have different temperaments and different needs. They do require a lot of care and attention and really can’t just be parked in a cage in the corner of the room and ignored if you expect them to talk and interact with you. And it takes time…and patience. It will not happen overnight…or even with every single parrot out there.

      W e have had Pebbles since she was 7 weeks old and have taken her on short and long trips with us the entire time. That includes vacations, moving between the Southwest and Midwest twice a year (while we taught on the Native American Reservations) and even short runs to town…so you can see we’ve made her a real member of our family…but we wouldn’t have it any other way.

      Thank you for your comment, and good luck to you, whatever you decide.

      Carol

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