Excerpt: 'Alex and Me'

Irene Pepperberg and an African Grey parrot named Alex worked together for more than 30 years. The pair became pioneers that gave the world insight to animals' minds and intellect.

In her new book, "Alex and Me," Pepperberg describes their relationship, including their massive success, popularity and emotional connection. Read an excerpt below.

Check out more excerpts from the "GMA" library.

Alex's First Labels

I'm not sure who was more nervous in our first days together, Alex or me. I know I was a little on edge, and he sure looked it, the poor traumatized bird. He'd been snatched from what had been his home for many months and thrust into a completely new environment, a small, fairly bare room occupied by a scary parakeet and unfamiliar humans. I considered myself a bird person, but I'd never had such a big bird before, and I was more than a little unsure about how best to handle him. I knew what food and drink to give him. I knew I needed to talk softly and soothingly to him at first, and give him treats. I understood that I had to build his trust in me.

A picture of Dr. Irene Pepperberg and Alex the parrot.

It didn't start well. Alex was still uneasy on the second day, still scared of the parakeet. I decided to move Merlin's cage to another room. I then went back to Alex and tried to encourage him to perch on my arm. He wouldn't even come out of the cage, despite my gentle verbal entreaties. The phone in the adjacent room rang; I went to answer it. By the time I returned to the lab, a minute at most, Alex had climbed out of his cage. Yes! Progress. I offered him some fruit, which he fussed with but didn't eat. I held out my arm for him to perch, and he clumsily climbed onto it. I imagined he had never perched on someone's arm before. More progress.

Not for long. Clearly still alarmed, Alex tried to fly, and promptly crashed to the floor because his wings had been clipped back at the pet store. He was squawking pathetically, flapping his wings wildly. Suddenly there was blood everywhere, spraying this way and that. He had broken a new wing feather. Poor Alex was freaking out, and so was I, but I tried to appear calm so as not to upset him any more than he was already. Having dealt with broken feathers with my parakeets, I knew what to do. But I was facing a very frightened and significantly larger bird here, not a comfortably established pet parakeet. That made it much harder, more hazardous. I eventually managed to gather him up, remove the feather, and get him back into his cage. He was obviously badly shaken. "Alex does not come out more that day, scared of me," I wrote in the journal I started when Alex arrived. Who could blame him?

Over the next few days Alex became a little braver, bit by tiny bit. He started to come out of his cage spontaneously, but was still very wary of me. On the third day he did perch on my hand, by accident: he had tried to avoid me, but found himself perching for a few seconds. I started to give him objects, such as paper and pieces of wood, to explore his preferences. I planned to begin by teaching him labels for things he liked, figuring it would speed up the learning process. It turned out that he loved paper index cards even more than food. He chewed them enthusiastically, rapidly tearing them to shreds.

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