Are parrots smarter than dolphins

Are Parrots Smarter Than Dolphins? (With Infographic)

If you think parrots are the only intelligent animal species with charming abilities like mimicry, dancing, and socializing, you might be wrong. 

Dolphins are regarded as one of the smartest animals on earth and they showcase a remarkable set of abilities that extend beyond the marine realm. 

While it is always difficult to compare the intelligence of two different animals, in this case, dolphins do seem to have the upper hand over parrots as the smarter species. 

Dolphins are superior to parrots in most areas of intelligence including memory, problem-solving, and communication. They even pass the mirror recognition test, which parrots are unable to do. 

Parrots Vs. Dolphins – Comparing Their Intelligence

There is no one way to find out who’s smarter than the other. In order to compare the intelligence levels of dolphins and parrots, we will look at different aspects that determine the cognitive abilities of an animal.

Are parrots smarter than dolphins infographic

Mirror Self Recognition 

The mirror test is designed to check if an animal can recognize itself in a mirror. An animal is considered to have passed the test if it can spot the mark made on its body by looking in the mirror. 

It means the animal understands that the image in the mirror is actually itself. It also helps us understand more about the animal’s self-awareness.

Dolphins are one of the few animals that have been able to pass the mirror self-recognition test. 

When dolphins are exposed to mirrors, they engage in self-directed behaviors such as fin wiggling, looking inside their mouths, or turning to see their belly. 

These behaviors show that dolphins can use a mirror to inspect how their body looks very much like humans do. (source)

Unlike dolphins, parrots do not show self-recognition. They are unable to recognize themselves in the mirror and see the image reflected as another bird. Parrots engage in social behaviors with the mirror image by vocalizing, beak touching, and even regurgitating. 


Dolphins have the longest memory of any species besides humans. They can recognize the sounds of their mates who once lived with them for over 20 years. This places them among some of the most intelligent animals on earth including humans. 

The study found that dolphins showed a clear pattern of recognition when exposed to recordings of signature whistles from dolphins they had known in the past. 

Jason Bruck, who conducted the study said “This shows us an animal operating cognitively at a level that’s very consistent with human social memory” (Source: University of Chicago)

Parrots also have a great memory as many anecdotal evidences suggest. Most parrot species live very long and during that time, they can be rehomed more than once. There have been many instances of the rehomed parrot remembering their previous owners and recognizing them when reunited. 

Unfortunately, though, there is a lack of controlled studies in the area of parrot memory. One study conducted on the Kea parrot shows that they can have a long-term memory of up to 2 years. However, there are no studies on other parrot species related to long-term memory.  

Communication Abilities

Dolphins have one of the most sophisticated languages of any animal species. Scientists believe that dolphins’ language is more complex than we have a proper understanding of. 

Researchers have recorded conversational exchanges between dolphins. It appears that they are able to communicate in a spoken language. 

Using a specialized two-channel hydrophone recording system that captures a frequency range of up to 220 kHz, a team of scientists studied the vocalizations of a pair of dolphins named Yasha and Yana in a pool. 

They observed dolphins emit short pulses of clicks while the other listened and reciprocated. The recordings suggested a sophisticated level of spoken language, similar to human conversations. (Source:

This is much more advanced than how parrots communicate. While parrots may be able to speak human words with eloquence, they do not understand most of them. 

Dolphins have mastered communication underwater. Since sound travels faster in water than in air, dolphins predominantly use their vocal abilities to communicate. They use whistles and clicking sounds with varying vocal pitches to send their message across. 

Parrots’ communication within the flock is multifaceted, involving a variety of vocalizations and body language. However, it is not as advanced as the language dolphins speak. 

Problem-Solving Skills

It is no mystery that parrots and dolphins are capable of sophisticated problem-solving. Both possess advanced cognitive abilities and are motivated to complete tasks that they are presented with. 

Parrots have been shown to understand cause and effect and even learn to coordinate with other parrots to solve a task at hand. 

Dolphins on the other hand are capable of coming up with novel solutions for the problems they are given. In one study, researchers set up a test where dolphins had to use an interactive device with weights to get a food reward. 

Previous studies have shown that dolphins can plan their actions for a better strategy to solve a novel problem. But this time, the dolphins didn’t plan their actions in advance, instead, each dolphin came up with its own way to try to get the reward.

Some dolphins tried different approaches, like manipulating the water flow or physically interacting with the device. This study highlights the flexibility of dolphins in problem-solving and figuring out spatial tasks in different ways. (Source: Science Direct)


When it comes to trainability, both dolphins and parrots stand out as highly intelligent and are able to follow commands and remember actions. 

Dolphins have been trained for various tasks, ranging from acrobatic performances in aquatic shows to practical jobs like detecting underwater mines using biological sonar and reporting on enemy swimmers. 

Parrots are also quite receptive to traditional training methods and can learn a myriad of playful tricks. 

African Grey Parrot

Emotional Intelligence

Both dolphins and parrots show a deep understanding of emotions. They can experience feelings like grief, pain, and joy, which are usually associated with more complex brains. 

We know pet parrots that are attached to their owners can read their feelings and also provide comfort in their own unique ways. But even though dolphins haven’t’ been domesticated like parrots have, they show a high level of emotional intelligence. 

What Is The Most Intelligent Parrot Species? 

Among parrot species, the African Grey Parrot is widely regarded as one of the most intelligent. They are known for their ability to understand and use words in context and have an extensive vocabulary of up to 150 words. 

According to Dr. Irene Pepperberg, Alex the African Grey Parrot’s intelligence was comparable to that of dolphins and great apes. She noted that in certain aspects, Alex exhibited cognitive abilities similar to a five-year-old human. She also believed that Alex had not yet reached his full intellectual potential at the time of his passing. (Source: Wikipedia)

Dorson Joseph
Dorson Joseph

I'm Dorson, a bird enthusiast who's had a lifelong fascination for the avian world. I am a parent to my beloved Senegal parrot and budgie, which has deepened my love for avian creatures and taught me a lot over the years. I co-run a bird store and care center with my friends, where we work with experienced professionals to care for our flock. Now, I find great joy in sharing my knowledge with others, hoping to assist fellow bird keepers and enthusiasts in understanding birds and helping them live happy lives.

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