Dr. Irene Pepperberg, who introduced the world to Alex the African Grey (and wrote the book “Alex & Me”), spoke at Phoenix Landing on Saturday, and I had the wonderful opportunity to attend.
Getting out to the event in Leesburg was a bit of an adventure: DP and I got a bit of a late start, then got stuck in Cherry Blossom Festival traffic. We were booking it out to the conference center where the lecture was taking place, and then with only a few miles left to go, we were pulled over for speeding 🙁 so we were still late.
We slid into a couple of seats at the back and listened to Irene Pepperberg tell stories about Alex and the work they did together. A running theme of the lecture, like the book, was her struggle getting recognition for doing “serious science” and the related matter of securing funding.
Two Phoenix Landing bird ambassadors — Leigh Ann Hartsfield’s Greys Pepper and Franco — hung out on stage next to Dr. Pepperberg throughout her lecture. They were models of good behavior. Pepper, as you may recall, was the African Grey who opened for the Puppy Bowl this year.
Alex the Grey: Books and Commemorative Items
After about an hour, Dr. Pepperberg took a break to give everyone a chance to continue bidding on items for the silent auction, buy bird toys from the mobile Phoenix Landing store, and get their copies of “Alex and Me” signed. When I brought up my copy for her to sign, she immediately noticed the beak-sized hole in the cover (courtesy of Mika) and we a nice chuckle about it.
I took the opportunity of the break to buy lots of toys, including some new shredding and foraging toys for Stewie and some plastic toys for Mika, because she likes different textures. The Phoenix Landing volunteers who manned the register were nice enough to apply my PL member discount, even though I had forgotten my membership card.
Dr. Pepperberg Demonstrates Her Training Technique
After the break, Irene Pepperberg got back up on stage and answered some audience questions, and then proceeded to demonstrate her training technique with Leigh Ann as model/rival, coaxing Pepper and Franco to tell her “what color?” The excitement proved to be too much for both birds, and neither of them cooperated during the demo session (although LeighAnn mentioned later that Franco wouldn’t stop saying “red, red, red” all the way back home after they left the event).
Later that night, as part of a separate event, we joined Dr. Pepperberg and about 20 other people at a special fundraising/birthday dinner for the guest of honor. Dinner started with wine and cheese; the main choice options included salmon, steak and a plate of many different kinds of veggie options, followed by amazing desserts. The food was amazing, and if that wasn’t enough, it was great fun to mingle with such a diverse group of people who all shared in a love of parrots.
After dinner, Dr. Pepperberg signed a gorgeous painting of Alex (done by one of the PL volunteers) which had been auctioned off that afternoon and purchased by one of the guests at dinner.
A big thanks to Phoenix Landing for putting together such an awesome set of events with Irene Pepperberg, and for everything they do to help improve the lives of captive parrots.
I’ll be uploading more photos from the Pepperberg event onto Flickr in the coming days.