Could a parrot serve as witness in Michigan murder trial?

Can a parrot serve as a witness in a murder trial? That's a question prosecutors are trying to answer in the case of 45-year-old Martin Duram, who was shot in his home in Sand Lake, Michigan, in May 2015. Weeks later, his African grey parrot, Bud, apparently mimicked what may have been an argument before the shooting, saying, "Don't f***ing shoot."

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African grey parrot

CBS News

So how smart is an African grey parrot? The answer might surprise you, reports CBS News correspondent Don Dahler.

"They're communicative abilities are, if you're lucky, about a 2-year-old. But their cognitive abilities are roughly that of a 5-year-old," Irene Pepperberg said.

Pepperberg runs the Alex Foundation and the Pepperberg Lab on the campus of Harvard University. She's been studying this species of parrot for 40 years.

"In the animal kingdom, where do you think their intelligence lies on a scale say with dogs, chimpanzees, dolphins, that kind of thing?" Dahler asked.

"They're equivalent to the chimpanzees and the dolphins," Pepperberg said.

"So highly intelligent animals," Dahler said.

"Yes, and people say, 'Oh, their brains are so tiny,' but it's not the size of the brain per se, but the size of the brain relative to the size of the creature. So for a one-pound parrot, the size of the brain is actually enormous," Pepperberg explained.

Griffin is 21 years old and he's still pretty young for a parrot. On average, African greys can live for 50 years in captivity.

"Do you think it's at all possible that a bird could hear something said in a moment of violence, retain it and repeat it?" Dahler asked.

"It's possible. Is it likely? Who knows?" Pepperberg said.

"Birds are much less likely to learn from film or from video than, say, from an interaction ... Would I say it's likely? No -- but possible, yes," Pepperberg added.

The African grey can not only mimic speech, but they've also displayed the ability to reason and identify.

"What color?" Pepperberg asked Griffin.

"Orange," Griffin responded.

But if a parrot's human friend was being attacked, would it be more prone to retain that memory?

"They could, they could," Pepperberg said.

"So it's possible that this bird witnessed the murder, heard what was said, but being able to prove that in the court of law--"

"Would be very difficult, yeah," Pepperberg said.

The challenge for the prosecutors is showing the phrase that the phrase the bird keeps repeating was said by the victim, not just something heard on TV.