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Talking Budgie Predicted His Own Death

By Elvira Cordileone
Source: Toronto Star

Ryan Reynolds is a psittalinguist — a person who interprets budgie-speak.

Since 1999, he has invested thousands of hours slowing down and deconstructing recordings of his beloved budgie, Victor, who died five years ago at the young age of 3, as well as other talking budgies.

Victor had a vocabulary of 1,000 words, which he used in context, Reynolds says.

Reynolds, founder of The Budgie Research Group, later reached out to others with talking budgies, hoping to share information. To describe their work, they coined the term psittalinguistics, from psittacidae, or the parrot family.

So what are budgies saying?

"This is going to sound crazy, but they talk about spiritual things: God, the afterlife, a better world for them," Reynolds says.

Reynolds, 50, is semi-retired from an administrative job. He's the group's senior translator, thanks partly to his work in radio communications with the Canadian Armed Forces from 1975 to 1985, which helped him develop his listening skills. A sensitive ear is crucial because budgies talk at a rate of 150 to 200 words a minute, he says.

"I don't claim to be 100 per cent (accurate), but other people do hear what I hear. It's not my imagination," Reynolds says.

"It takes a lot of skill and concentration. Budgies have a particular way of pronouncing words. It's like picking up accents."

Apart from the research group, which numbers 1,000 psittalinguist collaborators from around the world, Reynolds mounted an extensive website that includes captioned recordings of budgies speaking (http://www.parrotresearch.com), and he's working on a book tentatively entitled, The Prophecies of Parrots — the Story of Victor the Budgie.

Reynolds says Victor predicted a "tsunami on the south bank of Asia" and warned of an upcoming "super volcano." In the weeks before he died, Reynolds says Victor told him God was coming to take him away.

"I don't know about predictive ability," says veterinarian Petra Burgmann of the Animal Hospital of High Park. "What frame of reference would it have for a tsunami? But I certainly believe it's possible they know when they're about to die."

Rupert Sheldrake, a London-based biologist, biochemist, philosopher and author, who trained at Cambridge and Harvard, researches unexplained perceptiveness in animals, such as telepathy, sense of direction and premonition.

He repeatedly tested N'kisi, a captive African Grey parrot who seemed to respond telepathically to the thoughts and intentions of his owner, Aimee Morgana. He wanted to find out whether the bird would use words matching randomly chosen pictures Morgana was looking at in another room.

"These findings are consistent with the hypotheses that N'kisi was reacting telepathically to Aimee's mental activity," Sheldrake reports on his website.

"The fact that these experiments statistically prove that N'kisi's use of speech is not random also give evidence of his sentience and intentional use of language."

Toronto parrot owner Margaret Evered, formerly a behaviour biologist and now a computer consultant, doesn't need science to prove that she and her female African Grey parrot have a psychic bond.

Evered recounts how the bird, Plato, anticipated her return after a one-year absence — even though not even her parents, in whose care she'd left the bird, knew when she was returning.

"One day she wouldn't go to bed. She just kept standing at the door, waiting. I rolled in at 2 a.m.," Evered says.

She and Plato have shared a home for 21 years, from the time Plato was captured in the Congo when she was about 1.

Evered says Plato understands what she says. She has a vocabulary of about 300 words, which she mixes and matches as circumstances warrant.

Plato uses intonation appropriate to the circumstances. She'll ask "okay?" softly when someone is unwell. Or she'll refuse to do something with a vociferous "no" as she bounces up and down.

Irene Pepperberg, a comparative psychologist at Brandeis University in Massachusetts, has revolutionized thinking about these birds by proving they do conceptualize — thanks to her 20-year collaboration with Alex, an African Grey parrot (www.alexfoundation.org).

Parrot owners have to realize their pets have the cognitive ability of a 5-year old, she says. Locking them up without stimulation eight to 10 hours a day causes emotional damage and leads to behavioural problems, such as screaming or feather-plucking.

That's not likely to happen with one Toronto bird. Still a baby at age 3, Angel, a double yellow-headed Amazon parrot, lives in a spacious aviary equipped with a TV and a window that looks out onto Queen St. W.

Her owner, Charlie Ravka, keeps her on the second and third storeys above his store, which serves as office and occasional sleeping quarters.

"She's unpredictable, hilarious," Ravka says. "I don't know what she'll do next. But when I wake up, she says, `How are you?' And when I'm on the couch, she sits on the back and preens my hair.

"The parrot is my buddy."

RELATED ARTICLE: The Cat That Predicts Death