Cosmo Talks

All About Cosmo

In a nutshell

COSMO: “Where wanna gonna go?”
Betty Jean: “Betty Jean wanna go to work.”
COSMO: “Cosmo wanna go to work, okay?”
Betty Jean: “No. Cosmo stay home. Cosmo stay home with doggies.”
COSMO: “Okay. Doggies! Come here!” [Cosmo whistles.]
Betty Jean: “Good-bye. I love you.”
COSMO: “Good-bye. I love you. Betty Jean be back soon, okay?”

So goes a typical morning conversation with Cosmo, my seven-year-old female African Grey Parrot. Cosmo, who initiated this particular exchange one day in the fall of 2008, was watching me prepare to leave the house for the University of Georgia. Having been to my office and having accompanied me to classes—my own class in ecocriticism and other classes in psychology, anthropology, speech communication, philosophy, and ornithology—Cosmo knew what work was. Work entailed going “in a car” and meeting “company,” who would talk about her and to her, whistle with her, and laugh at her jokes. For her, work was fun. She would be happy to go to work every day.

Cosmo had long before invented the phrase “Where wanna gonna go?” She had uttered some one hundred words and two hundred phrases by the age of six, when I stopped keeping track. I stopped keeping track because her ability to make her own sentences, all meaningful though not all syntactically correct, had turned her in my mind into a feathery little person. I converse with her naturally and affectionately, almost unthinkingly, albeit in simplified speech patterns and with limited vocabulary.

Only occasionally now do I feel the amazement I first felt when I witnessed a one-year-old Cosmo trying to communicate with me in my language. But when I have company in the living room and see the efforts Cosmo makes to contribute to the merriment, from a cage around the corner in the dining room, I realize that Cosmo is an extraordinary animal. She competes with the laughing and talking guests to bring attention to herself, and she does so effectively, very effectively, by whistling, speaking, and laughing uproariously at her own humor. That is how she makes friends. That is how she gets us to love her.

Cosmo likes attention. And she deserves attention, for she enables all who know her—and she has many friends indeed in Athens, Georgia, where we live—to reconsider our understanding of the intelligence of non-human species. I have written this book, Conversations with Cosmo: At Home with an African Grey Parrot, to share with readers everywhere the story of Cosmo’s development as a talking bird. To bring you into her life, I have recreated many of the conversations Cosmo and I have had, conversations I would describe as usual and normal. Of course, as in human discourse, no conversation replicates a previous conversation exactly, but every one of these conversations has taken place at one time or another, and most of them have taken place with slight variations numerous times.

Excerpted from Betty Jean Craige, Conversations with Cosmo. Due out in print in April, 2010. (


Cosmo in the news:

“Cosmo the African Grey asks for peanuts, even tells jokes”

By Erin Rossiter  |  |  Story updated at 6:55 pm on 10/9/2008

Betty Jean Craige isn’t joking when she explains her interest in an African Grey parrot started with dolphins and gorillas. Read more →


I chose the name “Cosmo” for my baby African Grey because nobody I knew had that name. Although I had read that male and female Greys were indistinguishable from each other, I somehow thought that I had a male. Not until two years later did I learn from her veterinarian, who ran a DNA test on her, that Cosmo was a female. By then she was referring to herself as Cosmo—or Cos—and I didn’t want to give her a new name.

Cosmo loves to go to my bathroom, where she can open drawers and extract emery boards, bottles, jars, tubes, and lipsticks.

Within a month or so of her arrival, my dogs and Cosmo were comfortable enough with each other that Cosmo could be out of her cage whenever I was home to supervise. Supervision meant protecting the house from Cosmo, rather than protecting Cosmo from the dogs.

In Print Now

Conversations with Cosmo: At Home with an African Grey Parrot

Now in audiobook format!

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