Chipmunks are smarter than you think. One day my husband, Neil, and I heard a strange noise we had never heard before. It was a weird Chuck! Chuck! Chuck! coming from our detached garage and so loud that we heard it from inside the house, with all the windows closed. Curious, Neil and I both hurried outdoors.
Neil set up the ladder in the garage and checked under the eaves. Nothing. He searched our makeshift storage loft. Still nothing. I checked our big, birch tree. Nada.
“It sounds like an animal calling for help,” I said, afraid of sounding ridiculous.
“I’ve been thinking the same thing,” Neil answered.
But what kind of animal, and where was it?
Searching for the source of the sound, Neil focused on a garage window he had boarded up years before. Where the window met the wall, there was a narrow gap. Could some little creature have fallen inside the partition? Neil held a mirror above the gap and shone a flashlight into the space between the plywood and the vinyl siding, while I squinted into the opening.
“It’s a chipmunk!” I yelled. “I can see its yellow fur and black stripes.” The chipmunk lay flat on its stomach about halfway down the partition. It was wedged in so tightly it couldn’t move. Neil grabbed a crowbar and pried out the plywood as much as he dared without ruining the siding. No good. The chipmunk remained trapped. “Maybe you could cut a hole,” I suggested.
Neil attached a hole cutting bit to his electric drill. As the drill whirred, I held my breath. Not only did Neil have to be careful not to damage the siding. If we had guessed wrong about where to drill, he might kill the helpless animal. The first hole proved too high up. Neil drilled a second hole closer to the floor.
And that did it! A little, pudgy-cheeked head popped out. Neil and I exchanged high fives as we watched the newly freed chipmunk jump out and scamper away.
Later, I searched online for noises chipmunks make and found that exact “Chuck, Chuck” sound on a National Geographic YouTube video. Scientists say it’s an alarm call used by chipmunks who fear being attacked by a raptor, like an owl, eagle, or hawk. But our chippie, at least, knew to use it when he faced trouble of another kind.
Aline Alexander Newman is a permanently certified teacher and the author of seven animal books for children, all published by National Geographic Kids. LUCKY LEOPARDS tells three true stories of amazing animal rescues. Included are a pair of clouded leopard kittens stolen from their mother, a stranded green sea turtle, and a loon tangled up in fishing line. Personalized copies of LUCKY LEOPARDS and Aline’s other books are available at www.alinealexandernewman.com, as is information on her in-person school visits, which excite kids and get them happily reading and writing.
Aline is also a member of Authors on Call. Bring her into your classroom via interactive video conferencing. Here’s where you can learn more about her and her programs.
Dorothy Hinshaw Patent
Nature’s Animal Ambassador
The question “how smart are animals?” has puzzled many people for generations. Scientist Irene Pepperberg became intrigued with this problem after viewing NOVA TV programs about communication studies in apes and dolphins. Trained as a chemist, Irene decided then and there that her true passion was actually animal intelligence, not chemistry.
Irene plunged into learning what was already known and the revolutionary ideas of scientists who were changing how people thought about animals. At that time, in the early 1970s, people thought that animals didn’t think and make decisions but merely responded moment by moment to their environments. But researchers working with apes and dolphins were overturning that concept and showing that indeed, animals could think, solve problems, and act intelligently about what they had learned.
What about birds, Irene wondered? She had kept pet parakeets and knew they were smart and could learn to speak at least a few words. . She decided to study an African Grey parrot, a popular pet that can learn to pronounce words especially well.
She bought a young parrot, named him Alex, and got to work. To probe Alex’s mind, Irene needed to teach him to use words to describe his world. This took long, patient training. After a few years Alex could name objects and foods, such as a key, a piece of wood, or a banana. He also learned several colors, and soon could label an object by both its label and color, such as identifying “green key” or “yellow corn.” He learned to distinguish whether an object was made of wood, paper, or rawhide, and could distinguish shapes such as “three-cornered” or “four-corner.”
Alex also used his vocabulary to express his own desires. In the middle of an experimental session he might say “Want nut,” or “Wanna go shoulder.”
As the years passed, Alex kept learning. If Irene presented him with a tray of items of different numbers and colors—say 2 green keys, 4 blue keys, and 6 red keys—he could correctly answer the question “What color four?”
By the time he died suddenly and unexpectedly in 2007, Alex had learned more than 100 labels and showed understanding of many concepts. When people asked Irene why Alex was special, she’d reply, “Because a bird with a brain the size of a shelled walnut could do the kinds of things that young children do. And that changed our perception of what we mean by ‘bird brain.’ It changed the way we think about animal thinking.”
Alex isn't the only bird Dorothy has written about. This book explores a University of Montana research project using blood samples from osprey chicks to investigate the effects of heavy metal refuse from mining on the ecology of the Clark Fork River.
To learn more about The Call of the Osprey, go here.
Dorothy Hinshaw Patent is a member of iNK's Authors on Call and is available for classroom programs through Field Trip Zoom, a terrific technology that requires only a computer, wifi, and a webcam. Click here to find out more.
MLA 8 Citation
Patent, Dorothy Hinshaw. "Alex the Parrot, a Real Bird Brain." Nonfiction
Minute, iNK Think Tank, 15 May 2018, www.nonfictionminute.org/
For Vicki Cobb's BLOG (nonfiction book reviews, info on education, more), click here: Vicki's Blog
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