Ellie the Cockatoo Reads & Writes


We all know that parrots are ultra-smart. We’ve seen a lot of the researched data and have had a lot of personal interaction; enough to plant it firmly that these birds are much smarter than we have ever realized in the past. We have reports of one bird, Alex, while under the tutelage of Dr. Irene Pepperberg, asked a question about his color while looking into a mirror. This underscored the reality that they have questions with a desire to learn. Another parrot, by the name of Einstein, has a vocabulary of more than 200 words and can distinguish between colors and shapes. These are moments of extraordinary worth.

Ellie Reads & Writes

Here’s the story of another such bird. Ellie is an 11-year-old Goffin’s Cockatoo owned and studied by Jennifer Cunha, a property lawyer who focuses her time on animal cognition. She has also been creating practical training manuals to help others draw out the intelligence of their birds. She also collaborates on multiple animal cognition studies and often lectures on the subject worldwide. Even more fascinating is that her cockatoo, Ellie, can really read words and is considered one of two birds to be able to do so. (She owns both birds. The other is named Isabelle.)

Ellie can read basic words. Yes, you read that right. Ellie can read basic words. And even more exciting is that she can draw out (thus far) 14 letters on a touchpad using her beak as the “stylus.” With the ability to do this, Ellie can effectively communicate with Jennifer, revealing her feelings and wants. For example, if Ellie is interested in eating, she can use the tablet to request food and tell Jen what food she wants. If she loved it, she could indicate her happiness via the interactive tablet.

Cunha’s birds have passed university blind tests for their reading skills. The birds were presented with cards of words and pictures. The picture was placed on the top left and the word on the bottom right. They were prompted to “read” and understand the card with the picture. Then, they would be prompted to point with their beak to the picture after the word was presented. They would be given another card with a different word and picture. After familiarity, they would be asked which picture was which word, i.e., “which is the hamster; which is the otter?” The parrot would respond with 90% accuracy indicating reading proficiency.

These days, Cunha works with Northeastern University as a researcher. Along with other researchers, they hope to create a lab solely dedicated to studying animals, technology, and communication. In addition, they will work to produce a standard of acceptable treatment of animals that are brought in for such new research.

Cunha also runs Parrot Kindergarten, which is an online service that helps to teach new (and old) owners of parrots a series of proper helpful approaches to get the most out of the bonding between the bird and the human. Today, Cunha has over 200 customers who utilize her skill base to learn how to interact intellectually with their birds.

While there are unique birds that have set themselves apart with their learned abilities, the importance of continuance is that, in time, we may come to “converse” with not only parrots but other animals regularly. There is much more to the story, which you can check out here at Parrot Kindergarten.





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About the Author: Tony Ramos

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