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Is the bird, in fact, the word? Evidence expert explains whether a parrot’s mimicry can be admitted in Michigan murder case




An African Grey parrot bends his head for some attention in a pet shop October 26, 2005 in the central Israeli town of Hod Hasharon.
An African Grey parrot bends his head for some attention in a pet shop October 26, 2005 in the central Israeli town of Hod Hasharon.
David Silverman/Getty Images

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Can a parrot that some say witnessed a murder be used during trial to sing like a canary?

This is the question being asked in the western Michigan town of Ensley Township after local resident Martin Duram was shot and killed in May 2015. His wife, Glenna, has been charged with his murder. The couple had an African gray parrot as a pet, and prosecutors believe ‘Bud’ witnessed the murder.

How do they know? Since the shooting, the bird’s new owner says the parrot has been mimicking back what sounds like an argument, at the end of which it screeches at the top of its lungs, is “Don’t f***ing shoot!” The bird’s owners believe he’s recalling the final exchange between Glenna and Martin Duram before he was shot. Prosecutors in Newaygo County, Michigan are examining whether the parrot’s squawks can be used as evidence against Glenna Duram in her murder trial.

While there doesn’t appear to be any legal precedent for using a bird’s word as evidence, there are other cases where similar situations have arisen.

Should the bird’s utterance be allowed as evidence?

Guest:

Richard Friedman, professor of law at the University of Michigan School of Law