Do Parrots Make Reliable Witnesses?

I’m going to go with no. No they don’t.

But apparently this question is up for debate, at least in the media. A recent murder case in Michigan might have been witnessed by an African grey parrot, who later repeated a conversation in a male and female voice, ending in the words “Don’t fucking shoot”.

While the family of the victim might believe that these were his last words, and the media keeps asking the prosecuting attorney to see if it would be admissible evidence in court, I honestly hope that they are not even really considering it.

Of course parrots are amazingly intelligent, and many species are capable of learning to repeat a very wide vocabulary. How much they can learn, how quickly and under what circumstances is also being discussed extensively, in order to see whether or not it is plausible that the parrot is indeed repeating the conversation leading up to the murder, but none of that actually matters. Even if parrots do have flashbulb memory, and can learn an entire conversation after hearing it one time, and even granting them every if discussed in this scenario, it still wouldn’t matter.

Why? Because you have no idea when the parrot actually learned that conversation. Did he learn it months before the murder? Did someone teach it to him after the murder took place, in order to make it seem like a certain person did it? Did he learn it from a completely different source, like a movie or TV show? You can’t cross examine a parrot.

So, please. Enough with the parrot. They are marvelous and fascinating creatures, no mistake, but they make for crappy witnesses.

Should they, for some twisted reason actually accept this as evidence, you can go ahead and declare Michigan to be a completely lawless state altogether.


  1. The Mellow Monkey says

    Well said. The theory that the parrot could have learned the conversation from TV or a movie or else been purposefully taught it actually seems far more plausible to me than anything else. Why? Because in those cases the parrot could have heard the conversation over and over (with people drilling it, or it being a movie the owners watched often), while the actual murder would only be heard once.

  2. Jake Harban says

    I vaguely recall a case where some guy claimed he could “translate” on behalf of a dog who witnessed a crime and offered to provide the dog’s “testimony” in court. Somehow, the judge actually allowed this, although it was obviously reversed on appeal.

    Even if it didn’t actually happen, it’s only one step away from the false testimony provided by random people claiming to “interpret” on behalf of human witnesses who were not able to speak themselves.

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