The High Level of Consciousness in Birds that Imitate
Birds, and in particular the group we have
referred to as "sound imitators," have an astonishing talent for mimicry.
This demonstrates that these creatures have a definite consciousness,
for in order to use their talent, birds have to know what they want to
imitate, the word's stress and intonation, evaluate its timing very carefully
and then make a number of adjustments. Moreover, a bird must have a good
memory to be able to remember and repeat the sounds it has heard.
At this point, it shouldn't be overlooked that mimicry is a skill that
even the majority of intelligent, conscious people do not possess. It
is impossible or somewhat difficult for many of us to imitate songs or
sounds we've heard in a way that's true to the original. People who are
talented mimics attract much attention and are praised for their keen
powers of observation. But all members of a given species of parrot use
their skills of mimicry effortlessly-another indication that they possess
It should be pointed out, however, that the "consciousness" possessed
by birds does not resemble ours. Man has skills that no other living creatures
have such as the ability to think, make comparisons, understand, learn,
draw conclusions from what we've learned, and use that knowledge for innovation.
Above all, man is a being who is answerable to God for his deeds. In a
verse of the Qur'an, God conveys the following:
It is He Who created the heavens and the Earth in six days when His Throne
was on the water, in order to test which of you has the best actions…
As the verse says, man is responsible to God:
Then [He] formed him and breathed His Spirit into him and gave you hearing,
sight and hearts... (Qur'an, 32:9)
This conveys that man is given a "soul" by God, and will have to account
for his deeds in this world. Birds and other animals do not have this
responsibility; they merely have to carry out the tasks God has inspired
in them and are instruments through which we may witness His supreme power.
In a verse of the Qur'an, God declares the following:
The lyrebird is one of the world's best imitators,
able to mimic the sounds of twelve other species of birds. It can
also reproduce the sound of a camera shutter, a circuit breaker,
a car's engine, and an alarm clock. It can even imitate the sound
of an electric saw being used nearby. The Orphean warbler can imitate
the sounds produced by 70 other species of bird.
Do you not see that everyone in the heavens and Earth
glorifies God, as do the birds with their outspread wings? Each one knows
its prayer and glorification. God knows what they do. (Qur'an, 24:41)
The Skills of Understanding and Learning in Birds
Studies conducted by Professor Irene Pepperberg,
into animal behavior and communication between animals and humans,
give detailed information about birds' speaking and comprehension
skills. Only recently have scientists begun to understand the complexity
of their communications.
Of all the talking birds, the African grey parrot is
known to be the most talented in respect to understanding and learning.
Next come the Amazon parrots, especially yellow napes, the blue fronts,
red loreds, and the double yellowheads. Macaws also have vocal learning,
but usually vocalize in a loud and rough manner. Unlike the macaw, the
cockatoo, another of the parrots with vocal learning, has a sweet voice.
But neither species can be taught as easily as the African grey parrots
or the Amazons. Mynahs are also known to be particularly good at speaking.
One mynah, for example, when approached by a child, can say "Hello." And
if the child responds with the same greeting, the bird can ask, "How are
you?" Even more interesting, it can continue by asking, "What's your name?"12
One of parrots' striking abilities is that they can relate their speech
to subjects or movements. For example, a parrot greeted with "Good morning"
every time the cover is taken off the cage can, one morning when the cover
is removed, say the phrase of its own accord. You have probably heard
from several owners that their birds can say, "Hello" when the phone rings
or "Who is it?" when some one rings the doorbell. What's more, most birds
can do this without being taught, since they can make connections between
events and what is said at the time.
Alex, the parrot trained by Professor Pepperberg,
was able not only to produce and conceptualize phrases; but could
understand categories such as quantity, color and dimension. This
high consciousness that we see in animals is inspired by God in
For a long time, it was believed
that parrots and other talking birds simply imitate what they hear, but
recent research has shown that these creatures have surprising cognitive
abilities. Only recently have scientists begun to understand the complexity
of the bird's communication system. Studies conducted since 1977 by Professor
Irene Pepperberg on the subject of animal behavior and animal-human communications
give detailed information about birds' skills in speaking and comprehension.
In one of her most important works, the study was conducted with four
African Grey Parrots. The oldest of them, "Alex," could communicate with
the researchers, use specific words, express his wishes, knew the concepts
of "same" and "different," could count and identify objects, colors, shapes
and materials.13 According to scientists, these skills
were not automatic, but the results of learning, which in turn is a sign
of a high level of consciousness.14 Naturally this is
the inspiration of God. It is ridiculous to imagine that a small piece
of flesh composed of insentient atoms can exhibit such complex talents
of its own accord. God shows us His incomparable creative art in the talents
He has inspired in living creatures.
We will describe in greater detail the work of Professor
Pepperberg and use some examples of Alex's behavior to show what a parrot
is capable of doing. If we generalize about his skills, not only can he
produce and comprehend sentences, but he also understands concepts of
category, "same/different," absence, quantity, color and size. He can
tell whether one object is different from another, and whether there is
such an object in the room.15
- Alex has learned the names of more than 40 objects: paper, key, nut,
wood, wheat, truck, "hide" (rawhide chips), "peg wood" (clothespins),
grain, cork, corn, walnut, block, box, "showah" (shower), banana, pasta,
gym, cracker, "scraper" (nail file), popcorn, chain, kiwi, shoulder, "rock"
(a lava stone beak conditioner), carrot, gravel, cup, citrus, back, chair,
chalk, water, nail, grape, grate, treat, cherry, wool, green bean, and
- He has functional use of "no," phrases such as "Come here," "I want-,"
and "Wanna go-" using appropriate names for objects or locations.
- He has also acquired attributes. He can identify seven colors, "rose"
(red), blue, green, yellow, orange, grey, and purple.
- He can name five different shapes as two-, three-, four, five -, or
six-cornered objects. He uses "two," "three," "four," "five," and "sih"
(six) to distinguish quantities, including groups of unfamiliar items,
heterogeneous collections, and sets in which objects are arrayed at random.
- Alex has a limited comprehension of "category." He has learned, for
example, not only that "green" is one example of the category "color,"
but also that for a particularly colored and shaped object, "green" and
"three-corner" represent two of its different attributes. Thus he categorizes
such objects with respect to either attribute based on our vocal query
of "What color?" or "What shape?" Because the same object can be the subject
of either a shape or a color question at different times, Alex must be
able to change his basis for classification. Such an ability to reclassify
is thought to indicate the presence of "abstract aptitude."
Alex can say how many green triangles and
blue squares there are in a group of differently shaped and colored
objects. In creatures with no knowledge or intelligence, the development
of learning ability and ability to recall what they've learned is
the inspiration of God.
- He can request or refuse more than 100 objects, categorize and count
them, and combine adjectives with the names. In tests evaluating this
skill, he has a success rate of 80%.
- Alex has also learned to answer questions concerning abstract concepts,
such as "same" and "different." For example, when shown two objects of
the same color, shape or material, he knows which category the objects
have in common, or in which category they are different. Or if the objects
have no category in common, he is able to answer "none."
- The studies also showed that Alex can give the right answers in regard
to nouns, colors, shapes and materials not used in training sessions.
For example, he can give the correct answer to the question of "What's
the same?" when presented with a green triangular piece of wood and a
- If a trainer hands Alex something different from what he asked for,
Alex usually says "No" and repeats his original request. Moreover, he
can correctly say which of two objects is the larger or the smaller. If
they're the same size, he answers, "None."
- Given a series of objects of different shapes and colors, Alex can
say how many of them are, for example, green triangles or blue squares.
Able to sort different bottle tops according to size, he can also combine
words to say "I want a green nut" or express wishes in simple sentences
such as, "Come here."
- To study the parrot's conceptualization ability, Alex was asked, "What
color is object X?" Out of 100 objects of different shapes, colors, and
materials, he has a success rate of 81.3% in answering correctly. His
correct answers show that he understands all the elements of the question
and chooses the right answer by obtaining the required information from
objects he is shown.
As Alex's example shows, parrots given the necessary training can memorize
fairly long sentences, use them appropriately, and use them to reply to
various questions. In addition, they can recognize various words and combine
them appropriately. Nowadays, parrots are rated along with dolphins and
whales as possessing a high level of intelligence. About the intelligence
and talents of parrots, The Augusta Chronicle has this to say: :
New research suggests that parrots, like chimps and
dolphins, are capable of mastering complex intellectual concepts that
children cannot handle until age 5.16
Communication in animals-a dog's bark, for example-is
usually innate behavior, not learned. In many species of birds, also,
the basic sounds can be instinctive signals, innate and automatic. But
the ability to imitate specific sounds is different matter that requires
learning. Research shows that in species of birds such as the psittacine
group (parrots, crested parrots, budgerigars), corvids (crows, ravens,
jays) and the Cracticidae (Australian magpies, currawongs, butcherbirds)
most vocal skills are learned behavior.17
We should not forget that these talents do not originate with the creatures
in question. It is by God's inspiration that these creatures with no rationality
develop learning skills and then store in memory what they learned and
use it in context.
SCIENTISTS ARE SURPRISED BY THE INTELLIGENCE MANIFESTED IN BIRDS
Carlio Melo, a brain researcher in Rockefeller University's animal behavior
laboratory, says: ". . . in the beginning of the century up to the 30th
and 40th, people believed that the brain of birds were very
simple and they were considered primitive. And that created a lot of problems,
a lot of prejudice actually. It's funny to think about this in science,
but it does happen. … Birds are very, very intelligent in many ways… That
means many birds, particularly those birds that have vocal learning such
as song birds, parrots and hummingbirds, they have a very high brain to
body ratio… That means these are very, very smart animals." *http://www.abc.net.au/worldtoday/s162563.htm
The Surprising Memory of Birds
Their skills in imitating sound are directly related to birds' ability
to recall sounds they have heard. According to the research team at the
Free University in Berlin, when conducting research into how a bird imitates
sound, the following points should be addressed:
Vocal imitation which is so common in human beings
is quite rare in nonhuman organisms. Until now, it has been documented
only for a few families of birds (e. g. oscine birds and parrots) and
some mammals (e. g. marine mammals and bats). As an inquiry into this
accomplishment we study the properties of memory mechanisms that allow
individuals to first acquire, then memorize and finally vocally imitate
a set of auditorily experienced signal patterns. Our biological model
is the Common Nightingale (Luscinia megarhynchos). Males of this species
are able to auditorily learn and accurately reproduce more than 200 different
types of songs. Thus, a central aim of our study is to uncover how these
birds successfully cope with complex learning tasks, and how they effectively
retrieve their memory-stored data later in life…18
Birds' have memories of surprisingly high capacity.
Not only do they recall the exact location of where they spend their summers
and winters, but also the precise location of various foodstuffs they
have stored for use in the winter and of plants whose nectar they have
drunk. In fact, some birds have longer-term memories than humans. In order
to survive cold winter days of heavy snow, some bird species bury thousands
of seeds in autumn and remember all of those different places when winter
comes, months later. 19
It's certainly a miracle that a bird has such a capacity for memory and
learning. At the same time, this makes nonsense of evolutionists' claims
that creatures evolved. Evolutionary theory cannot explain how birds are
able to store in memory sounds they have heard and then use them appropriately.
Evolutionary assertions cannot explain how birds have come to possess
such a memory. (For detailed information, see the chapter headed "Talking
Birds Invalidate Evolutionary Claims").
It's not possible for a bird to set up a system for storing what it has
learned in its tiny brain. It's similarly impossible for a special structure
to form in a bird's brain by chance. Birds' ability to recall sounds and
information is just one of the many talents God has granted to these creatures.
Humans' characteristic ability to imitate
sounds is rarely found in animals, and only a very small number
of animals are known to have this feature: three groups of birds,
parrots (psittaciformes), songbirds (oscine passeriformes) and hummingbirds
(trochiliformes), and among the mammals, bats, whales and dolphins
(cetaceans)... All other species are known to produce only their
inborn, instinctive sounds.
Tests Conducted on Talking Birds
God has granted to talking birds some extraordinary talents, as revealed
in studies conducted on African Grey parrots (Psittacus erithacus) by
Professor Irene Pepperberg.
In the course of their studies, Pepperberg and her
colleagues conducted simple but meaningful conversations with Alex rather
than repeating meaningless words or phrases over and over. One person
would ask-and the other answer-such questions as, "What shape is the wood?"
"How many?" and "What object is blue?" The one asking the questions praised
the other party for correct answers. The same study was repeated using
the same model and content, but different categories. After these studies,
when Alex used the words appropriately, he was given the object he asked
for and told that he was "a good boy." By this training method, as already
mentioned, Alex learned the names of more than 100 objects, and to respond
correctly to questions relating to their shapes, colors and structures.
20 By observing the two people talking, he could understand
what those carrying out the test were saying to him and could respond
to them in a meaningful way. Most of the time, he listened to two people
asking each other questions in a systematic way. After a time, he started
expressing wishes such as "Tickle me" or "I want popcorn." When offered
something other than the food he asked for, he would refuse it and repeat
his request. He would ask to be taken to different places-for example,
"Wanna go chair." If taken to the wrong place, he would stay on the person's
arm and repeat what he wanted.
By God's will, these animals display abilities
that far exceed what their brain capacity would suggest, and show
behavior that fills humans with admiration.
In another test, Alex was shown a tray of seven objects
like a purple key, yellow wood, green leather, blue paper, an orange peg,
gray box, and a red truck; and asked which one was gray, Alex would look
carefully at all seven objects and answer, "Box." A red paper triangle
and a blue wooden triangle were put on the tray. When asked what was the
same, he answered, "Shape." 21
Research and tests conducted on parrots and other talking
birds are not just limited to Alex. Another rather surprising example
is a small parrot named Blue Bird. Within a few weeks of the project's
start, this bird started talking in a meaningful way and learned to ask
for things understandably. When he wanted someone to open the door of
his cage or any other door, he could use phrases like, "Open the door,"
"Can I have some?" when he wanted something someone was eating, or "Take
a shower" when he wanted someone to turn the water on so he could bathe.22
Blue Bird wasn't taught words directly or formally.
Instead, his trainer, Sheryl C. Wilson, would say words slowly and in
context, for example, "Open the door" on opening the door of his cage.
The bird seemed to understand. Using this method, in a short time he began
to use these words in their proper context: "How are you?" "Whatcha doing?"
"Where you going?" "Hello," "Good morning," "Good night" and "Such a sleepy
little birdie." He could also comprehend and obey Wilson's requests such
as "Get down," "Please go into your cage," and "No!" Whenever his owner
called, the bird would fly straight to her.23
All this information shows how some birds can, in common with humans,
use general and abstract concepts and remember information stored in their
memory. As with parrots, which have the appropriate anatomical structures
to imitate human sounds, certain other birds can also talk to us in a
meaningful way. No doubt they urge us to think of them as indicators of
the knowledge and wisdom in God's creation. It is God Who creates birds
with diverse talents like speech and mimicry. By His will, these creatures
exhibit behavioral skills that surpass expectations of their brain capacity
to an astonishing degree. This, together with thousands of similar examples
in nature, lets people see God's power, strengthening the faith of those
who already believe and allowing many who do not know God as they should
to consider the reality of creation.
God has commanded us to ponder the vast evidence in the skies and upon
Earth. However, it should not be forgotten that only those who listen
to the voice of their conscience will be able to see this manifest evidence
and conceptualize its meaning with God's consent:
Have they not looked at the sky above them: How We structured
it and made it beautiful and how there are no fissures in it? And the
Earth: how We stretched it out and cast firmly embedded mountains onto
it and caused luxuriant plants of every kind to grow in it, an instruction
and a reminder for every penitent human being. (Qur'an, 50:6-8)
EXAMPLES OF VOCALIZATIONS
The above frames from the
nature program, "Parrots: Look Who's Talking," are just a few examples
of the phrases that parrots and budgerigars have learned to say.
"And He has made everything in the heavens
and everything on the Earth subservient to you. It is all from Him.
There are certainly Signs in that for people who reflect."
Communication and Signaling in Birds
Birds produce meaningful communications by their facial
expressions, beak movements, feather ruffling, elongating their necks,
crouching, bouncing, and flapping their wings. Although each species has
its own body language, many different species interpret movements in the
same way. For example, various species interpret an upward thrust of the
beak as expressing the intention to fly, and the lowering of the breast
as a warning of danger. Also, several species perceive raising the tail
feathers as a threat, or displaying bright colors atop of the head as
a declaration of the intent to attack. Via facial expression, birds can
convey a variety of messages to those around them-negative feelings such
as dislike and resentment, as well as positive ones like pleasure, enthusiasm
Birds produce different facial expressions by movements
of the beak, or by positioning the feathers above the beak, on the chin,
or atop the head. In some species, the feathers above the eye can also
move independently. Moreover, many species make a display by opening their
beaks. For example, the tawny frogmouth opens its beak to reveal its large,
bright green oral cavity, emphasizing the size of its beak and making
it appear more intimidating. Some other species open their beaks as a
form of threatening behavior, usually silently, but sometimes enhance
the performance with hissing or loud breathing.25
Besides communicating by means of body language, birds produce a great
variety of sounds to communicate with other members of their flock, neighbors,
or family members. These range from short, simple calls to songs that
are surprisingly long and complex. Sometimes birds such as the green woodpecker
use different instruments or, like the American woodpecker, use special
feathers to produce sound.
Birds also communicate through smell, though since their sense of smell
is poor, their communication is based mainly on sound and sight. At times
of poor visibility, as at night or in dense foliage, sound is most advantageous,
and is also the ideal method for long-distance communication. If conditions
are right, birdsong can be heard for up to a few kilometers.
As we have seen in the example of Alex, the African Grey, birds also
have conceptualization and communication skills. In certain circumstances,
they demonstrate talents equivalent to those of children of primary-school
age, learning series of words and other means of human communication through
social interaction. When alone, these parrots play vocalization games
and when in the company of people, they join vocalizations together to
produce new assemblages from existing sequences of speech. God, the Creator
of everything on Earth and in the skies, equips them with the talents
and characteristics that set them apart. Accordingly, our praises for
the supreme beauty of our environment is praise that belongs to God.
The Language of Calls and Songs
To call one another, birds produce sounds of extremely high frequency
and strength. Only a few species such as pelicans, storks, and certain
vultures have no call. The acoustic calls used by birds amongst themselves
form a language of sorts. Their songs, which are longer and generally
related to courtship, consist of a series of notes and usually contain
Birdsong is usually heard in spring, whereas the calls,
much simpler than songs, are used by both sexes and heard throughout the
year. Birdcalls allow swift communication via simple messages without
a great expenditure of energy.26 These calls' main functions
can be listed as follows:
The photographs above show the areas of the
brain activated during hearing and singing in the canary.
- to establish a bird's species
- to indicate the bird's gender
- to show its location
- to demarcate and defend a territory
- to advertise a source of food
- to let young birds recognize their parents
- to keep the flock together
- to warn of the presence of an enemy
- to intimidate an enemy
- for courtship
- to mark the changeover of responsibility for nesting duties such as
incubating or feeding
- to practice and perfect songs
The songs of hummingbirds and the way they
learn them astonish researchers. Each song is unique to the individual.
Hummingbirds are not born with innate songs; they learn how to sing
from their mothers and fathers.
Usually, birdsong is not composed of randomly produced
sounds. Songs are exceptionally diverse melodies of specific meaning,
sung for a purpose, and are much more complex than the calls used for
signaling. They are generally used by males to advertise and defend a
territory, or in courtship. It is also believed that songs serve a social
function. When a pair is building their nest, they also establish communication
by song. Experiments on caged birds have also demonstrated that birds
find it easier to learn songs if another bird is present, but out of sight,
in another cage.27
Male and female songbirds have different brain structures, particularly
in the regions related to sound production. With many songbird species,
the males can sing, but the females cannot. The males use "song" to call
their mates or designate a tree, pole, or electrical cable as a place
to perch. Each species sings a song with its own characteristics, but
any given species' songs display variations according to age, sex, particular
time of year, and geographical location-appropriate for the environment
in which they live. For example, birds that live in meadows use "songs
of flight." Similarly, ones that live in the dense foliage of rain forests
or reed thickets have loud voices to compensate for reduced visibility.
Knowing which song to sing in which environment, and the meaning and
purpose of each song, are not something that each individual bird can
work out for itself. Behavior indicative of such wisdom and foresight
by creatures with no reason or judgment exhibits the inspiration of God
in living creatures. He creates each creature with its necessary characteristics
and inspires its rational behavior.
It's not easy to identify where a warning
sound originates. Usually two ears are needed to hear a noise and
identify where it is coming from. Thanks to their keen hearing,
birds can also evaluate and verify important elements of a song
message such as intensity and time interval. In this way, they break
the message's "code" and identify the sender's location. Judging
the interval between the sound wave reaching first one ear and then
the other is more effective at low frequencies. At higher frequencies,
sounds' wavelengths diminish, and it becomes increasingly difficult
to identify the source. On the other hand, there is one frequency
of sound whose source is impossible to determine, using the time
difference in the sound's reaching the listener's two ears. If a
bird is using this frequency as an alarm frequency, then naturally
it is also trying to protect itself from an enemy. (Lesley J. Rogers
& Gisela Kaplan, Songs, Roars and Rituals, Communication In Birds,
Mammals and Other Animals, USA, 2000, pages 93-94) This superior
skill which God has made manifest in birds is one of the wonders
"Does He Who created the heavens and Earth
not have the power to create the same again? Yes indeed! He is the
Creator, the All-Knowing. His command when He desires a thing is
just to say to it, 'Be!' and it is." (Qur'an, 36:81-82)