African Grey Parrot

Early Bird Provolve

African Grey
Image from PortalHunter

An intelligent, talkative bird originally from rainforests in Western and Central Africa. Successfully provolved during the early Interplanetary Age, it became the first non-mammalian provolve.

Parrots had long been suspected of having great intelligence by pre-Singularity humans, and several species were prized as pets due to their speaking abilities. Many varieties of baseline parrot would mimic human speech and repeat phrases and sounds they heard often. While in some this was blind mimicry, in the first century AT it was proven that many were in fact able to understand what they were saying. Some African Grey Parrots, which were thought of as the most intelligent species by many experts in the field, seemed to be able to recognize the concept of zero, associate emotions with actions, and even possessed a vague sense of self-awareness. They were also very sociable animals, connecting closely to humans and to other parrots, and even other animals, such as dogs, cats or other birds.

In the Interplanetary Age some corporations first began to genetically engineer various varieties of parrot to enlarge and otherwise modify their speech centres, so as to make them both more talkative and more attuned to human speech. At around the same time, assorted genes for pigmentation were swapped between different parrot species, leading to many African Grey Parrots that were red, green, gold, blue, or various mixtures of these colours. These highly intelligent creatures were already on the border of personhood with these modifications, and as they were traded around the world many scientific organizations began to do research on them. Finally a South Korean laboratory did additional modification on the speaking African Grey Parrots, to enhance their tool use skills, and increase their sense of self. Most of this work was derived from research into Corvid genetics. These modified parrots were popular in Korea and Japan, but due to lack of funding the efforts were unable to continue. Most of the resulting parrots were purchased by a European megacorporation, and moved to one of the first floating cities which was usually located off the coast of Spain or Northern Africa. Here they were modified once more, restructuring some segments of their brains for better pattern recognition, increased self-awareness and better problem-solving, which was achieved through examination of research into the relationships between human cognition and DNA. Kakapo genes were also incorporated for greater size, and the prehensility of their feet enhanced by drawing on genetic sources from throughout the Psittaciformes order. The resulting parrots, which were of various colours, were raised both by humans and by their Korean-augmented parents. The parrots were raised mainly on English, although some were also taught Arabic, French, Japanese, Korean or Dutch from a young age.

The provolving scientists who had raised the parrots got together and purchased much of the stock, with assistance from charitable organizations, after which they were dispersed to the various home countries of these workers, with regular correspondence. Meanwhile the floating city was declared the property of the Parrot Advancement Unit, a newly-created subsidiary of the owning megacorporation. The remaining provolved African Greys became the clients of a form of employment agency operated by their creators, which found them jobs in the film industry, as mascots and spokespeople for various businesses, and jobs in some agricultural sectors, where they were very effective at harvesting nuts and fruit from trees.

They were shortly given equal rights with humans in a number of places, such as California, some parts of the United States of America, the European Federation, much of the Caribbean, Japan, and Korea. Many, but not all, other polities of the era eventually followed. In these countries, the talking sub-sophont parrots lost most of their popularity, since they started to make humans feel uncomfortable.

African Grey
Image from Steve Bowers

African Grey Parrots were an extremely sociable species. They would accept people readily into their group of friends, and quickly introduce them to their entire social group. Having made friends with an African Grey Parrot, it became very difficult to get rid of them, as they would prefer to be doing something with as many of their friends as possible at all times. This could be a strain on their friends who preferred time to themselves. Those humans who found friendships difficult would befriend parrots by default, and so 'parrot wannabe', 'feather-boy' and 'bird buddy' became common taunts to use on socially awkward people. The Parrot provolves had a lifespan of 70 years, similar to their ancestors, and matured at roughly 5 years of age sexually, a few years after which they will usually find a mate and settle down. After this, they would regularly produce 1-4 chicks every couple of years, meaning that their population could sky-rocket. When they are breeding, they had a tendency to gather together into large groups of people of any kind having children, preferably living communally. The equivalent of divorce has always been very rare in African Grey Parrots.

Provolved parrots were larger than their predecessors, with a standing height of 50-60 centimetres. They could still fly, although it took more energy than for a smaller bird. Their feet retained the very strong gripping-ability possessed by their ancestors, but with enhanced sensitivity. Much of the work done on this aspect of their feet was derived from studies of the chimpanzee genome. Coupled with their extraordinarily strong beak muscles, they could get by without handtech well enough. However, many used it for greater ease and dexterity. They find low gravity very easy to adapt to, but are notoriously ill-suited for higher gravities, to their low robustness and strong flight instincts.

Space exploration was easier for parrots due to their smaller size and better 3D co-ordination, but space colonization was harder, as they did not feel comfortable in small spaces, especially when they wanted to breed. When in flight, an African Grey Parrot provolve would not feel comfortable without a surrounding empty area substantially larger than their wingspan. If not provided with this, they would usually prefer to walk or climb.

As more avian provolve species arose, especially parrot provolves, through which the African Greys connected using the Parrot Advancement Unit, the African Greys aesthetically modified themselves still further, incorporating different colours, beak shapes and feather conformations. Some acquired UV-coloured pigmentation, which was not visible to many other unaugmented sophonts. Many acquired longer tail feathers and ruffs around their heads. A few even acquired wattles and crests, as possessed by turkeys, chickens, or guinea fowl. Soon the line between parrot provolve clades began to blur.

During the Technocalypse many parrot provolves survived by fleeing into forested regions on Earth, or by clinging on in an assortment of habitats throughout the system. A few mild tweak clades survived on Mars, while large populations remained in the few surviving large colonies. In smaller habitats, many modified themselves for smaller size, and often became groundbirds, without the ability to fly, by incorporating the genes of flightless species of parrot. Others solved the problem by altering their physiology and instincts to enable flight in microgravity.

With the rise of the First Federation, African Greys and other parrot provolve clades flourished, becoming one of the most numerous clades of provolve throughout Terragen space, due to their friendly, sociable behaviour, rapid breeding and communal lifestyle. Superbright parrots are relatively common, although transapients are more often derived from groups of parrots. Parrots will also often volunteer to merge with pre-existing transapients of many varieties.

Those parrots who have a large amount of African Grey ancestry are often known by nicknames such as N'kisis or Alexians, after well-known intelligent parrots from prior to their provolution, or Powows, as a descendant of the acronym PAU, for Parrot Advancement Unit.

Parrots often choose to decorate themselves with feather paints, especially those of paler colours, for which purpose, and others, they often use hand-tech, due to their feet not being quite prehensile enough in many cases. Architecture of settlements and habitats constructed by African Greys is usually confusing to human-derived clades, and many ground-dwelling groups, as much is only accessible to flying creatures, and alternates between wide open spaces and confusing jumbles of residences and public buildings, between which there are no real boundaries.

The descendants of African Grey Parrot provolves seem to have a higher-than-average proportion of agnostics, sophontists, atheists, and other 'non-religious' denominations. The reason for this is unknown, but perhaps due to the fact that Parrots take comfort in those around them rather than in abstract concepts. those which are religious usually believe in some form of Emergent God, which is within all beings. A major exception to this is the large population of African Grey provolves in the Stellar Umma, descended from those provolves which converted to Islam in the first few generations (the sponsoring corporation was closely affiliated with Europe, which by that point was very heavily influenced by Islam). There are also many Archailect-worshipping groups among the clade.

Among those provolves still similar to their ancestors, there is one of the most extreme diversities of language found in any modosophont biont clades. This is due to the flexible language centre and vocal cords of the species. Some have constructed their own languages, loosely based on natural parrot vocalisations.

In terms of music, and other forms of art, the parrot provolves are equally
diverse, although they lean towards songs without much of a beat, which are also quite fast. African Grey Parrots often get irritated if music progresses too quickly. Also, many sophonts engaged in art using gas giants as a medium are derived from African Grey Parrots.

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Development Notes
Text by Kirran Lochhead Strang
expanded from the original by M. Alan Kazlev
Initially published on 10 September 2001.