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( Originally Published 1894 )
The parrots never fail to interest, on account of their beauty of form and colour, and their aptitude for imitating common sounds. There are some hundreds of species, belonging to different parts of the world, the Cockatoos to Australia, the Macaws to America, and many varieties to Africa. The Macaws and some other kinds are among the most gorgeous of living birds and whether seen in their native wilds or in the aviaries of civilisation never fail to excite admiration. The Cockatoo is distinguished from the true parrot by its crest; other species are differentiated by habit, size, colour, and form. The better known of these are, the Sulphur-crested Cockatoo, the Ground parrot, the Macaw, the Grey parrot, the Green parrot, the Parrakeets and the Love-birds.
Many stories are told of the remarkable powers of individual parrots and the singular appropriateness of their remarks on particular occasions. These are often so startling as to arouse suspicion of their authenticity, and yet a moment's reflection will show that coincidence plays a large part in these demonstrations, and that many of the most astonishing examples of felicitous interjection, or repartee, are due to this, and not to any special gift of intelligence on the part of the bird. An ordinary parrot with half a dozen phrases which it is constantly repeating, will in the nature of things, often use them in singularly felicitous connection with current conversation. No notice is taken of the many instances in which the phrase is inappropriate and yet a few cases of remarkable fitness are held to demonstrate extraordinary intelligence. Teach a parrot such a simple rejoinder as " not I ! " and the bird using it in answer to ail sorts of questions, will often use it with apparent intelligence, but a dol) might be made to show equal wit. That parrots are taught to give certain answers to certain questions is of course true, but in these cases the questions suggest the answers and all the intelligence is shown by the interrogator. Those birds which have lived many years and acquired many phrases, will naturally, from the extent of their repertoire, the more often surprise their hearers; but that they show any greater intelligence may perhaps be doubted. That some of the parrots, and especially the Love-birds, show great feeling for each other and attachment to their owners is well known, but the claim sometimes made that they show greater intelligence than any other birds may be very safely disputed. The term "parrot-like," as applied to the repetition of lessons by rote which are not understood by those repeating them, involves no injustice to the parrot.
There have been many famous parrots who have played their part in history if they have not rivalled the geese that saved Rome. The Emperor Basilius Macedo was induced by a Parrot, who cast a gloom over the guests at a banquet by continually calling out, "Alas, alas! poor Prince Leo", to liberate his son whom he had confined on suspicion of treason. The Emperor observed the gloom of his guests and urged them to the pleasures of the table, when one of them is said to have responded, "How should we eat, Sire, when we are thus reproached by this bird of our want of duty to your family? The brute animal is mindful of its Lord; and we that have reason, have neglected to supplicate your Majesty in behalf of the prince, whom we all believe to be innocent, and to suffer under calumny." Whether the bird had been purposely taught this phrase, or had merely acquired it by hearing its frequent repetition does not appear. The following memorial which appeared in the London papers in October 1822 is quoted from the "Percy Anecdotes." "A few days ago, died, in Half Moon Street, Piccadilly, the celebrated parrot of Colonel O'Kelly. This singular bird sang a number of songs in perfect time and tune. She could express her wants articulately, and give he! orders in a manner nearly approaching to rationality. Hex age was not known; it was, however, more than thirty years, for previous to that period, Colonel O'Kelly bought her at Bristol for one hundred guineas. The Colonel was repeatedly offered five hundred guineas a year for the bird, by persons who wished to make a public exhibition of her; but this, out of tenderness to the favourite, he constantly refused. She could not only repeat a great number of sentences, but answer questions put to her. When singing, she beat time with all the appearance of science; and so accurate was her judgment that if by chance she mistook a note, she would revert to the bar where the mistake was made, correct herself, and still beating regular time, go through the whole with wonderful exactness." A Grey parrot is said to have been sold in i500, for a hundred guineas, to a Lord; High Cardinal at Rome, on account of its ability to repeat, without error, the Apostles' Creed.