Do talking parrots communicate? Are they mimicking sounds or communicating independently in response to human voices?
Do parrots talk?
Researchers have shown that it depends on the individual parrot. The same goes for whether parrots can actually communicate with humans – it depends on many factors such as age, species, location, housing conditions, and previous experiences.
For starters, parrots can communicate with a minimal range of sounds. With few exceptions, parrots cannot produce human speech sounds like “m,” “n,” and “r.” Instead, they can make a range of alarm calls, whistles, trills, and squawks. They can also create different sounds based on their mood, species, body language, and environment.
It can be a little surprising but fascinating the first time your pet bird starts speaking, especially if you’re used to just hearing “chirp” after “chirp”. Parrots will often repeat the common phrases their owners use when handling them, like “Good boy”, “Come here”, or “Step Up.”
(Truth #1) Those types of phrases are likely imitations rather than actual communication.
Parrots often imitate the sound of a telephone, a doorbell, a television show, or certain sayings that owners are prone to repeat frequently. And, much to the dismay of some bird parents – curse words. Be careful what you say within the earshot of your pet parrot!
A parrot housed and raised in a city environment will talk differently than a parrot raised in a rural area. The city parrot has a broader range of sounds, while the quieter rural environment offers fewer choices.
Should I purchase a talking parrot?
- What pet bird species are likely to talk?
- What helpful tips should parrots know?
If considering a purchase of a bird for a family pet, please don’t emphasize whether a particular kind of bird may or may not talk. You may end up disappointed, frustrated, and lose interest in the bird. It’s not fair for birds to suffer when their owners lose interest later on because they don’t meet the talking expectation.
Instead, be delighted when your parrot says a word or two now and then. Think of the talking aspects of bird ownership as a value-added bonus vs. a mandatory requirement.
(Truth #2) Bird rescue organizations are full of birds who either didn’t talk enough or learned to say things that owners came to regret.
The communication skills of parrot species vary greatly, and some are more capable than others, depending on their species and the environment where they live.
Cartoons, movies and occasional viral videos often trivialize and romanticize the talking ability of companion birds. While it is true that there is a basic form of communication in some species, this is not the case for all species or individual birds.
Parrot species considerations
Have you heard the saying, “If you watch a pot, it never boils?” It sometimes also applies to pet birds.
Assuming you’ve thought about or decided to purchase a companion bird species, you may have considered whether you want a talking variety. Here are some considerations:
- Is the breed known to talk?
- How large is the breed’s typical vocabulary?
- Is the breed known for repeating a few words here and there, like a conure, or does it have a reputation for talking, like African Greys?
- Do I want a quiet bird, or is loud and obnoxious acceptable?
- Will the bird live in a single-family home or a condominium or apartment community?
Watching online talking parrot videos, visiting pet stores to research food costs, and talking to current bird owners provide plenty of resources for potential bird owners.
What are companion bird species likely to talk?
The communication skills of parrot species vary greatly, and some are more capable than others, depending on their species and the environment where they live. And some African parrot species are known to have a form of rudimentary sign language.
Keep reading for an overview of talking parrot species.
African Grey –
African Grey parrots are medium-sized birds, and many Grey’s live for over 50 years. They are among the most expensive companion parrot pets. They require a medium-sized cage, perches, and a lot of supervised time out of their cage daily with attentive and frequent owner interactions.
(Truth #3) Caring for an African Grey – either Congo or Timneh – is a huge responsibility.
Research has proven that African Greys are among the most intelligent parrot species. If most parrots mimic sounds, it can be said (and has been confirmed) that at least some African Greys display the ability actually to communicate. Einstein the talking parrot from Texas, even has a website.
Owning an African Grey is a significant commitment, and they require an owner willing to provide appropriate enrichment to bring out their best. To read more about the challenges, insights, and possibilities accompanying African Grey ownership, Harvard Research Associate and lecturer Irene Pepperberg provides many published articles, papers, and even a book about her star African Grey, Alex. He demonstrated the ability to count, recognize specific objects, give them appropriate labels, and exhibited signs of understanding simple math concepts.
Alex & Me by Irene M. Pepperberg provides a beautiful and touching story about the relationship between the professor/scientist and Alex, the African Grey. He is perhaps the most famous African Grey that ever lived and has had several television appearances.
The book provides many humorous stories, results of research, and details about the last days Alex spent as a fascinating research subject. The book includes many details about the 30-year friendship between a woman and her bird.
Macaw parrots, in general, are large-sized birds. Wide varieties of macaws have lived for more than 40 years. The macaw talking parrot species is among the most expensive pet birds to own, requiring a large cage, large toys, and an area to be out of the cage for several hours each day. Owners must provide stimulating activities like foraging games, chewable treats and toys, and heavy-duty perches. Macaws are heavy chewers and love to shred, tear, and even break wooden items with their beaks.
Scarlet Macaws are among the best-known large parrots. Their beautiful red colors stand out in any environment. They are often displayed at zoos and other animal parks and attractions because they demand attention (and receive it). They have huge personalities and are pretty vocal and extremely loud. They can live more than 75 years. They grow relatively large for a bird (more than 30 inches).
Hahns Macaws are smaller birds, sometimes called “mini-macaws” since their adult size is approximately 12 inches. They can live for 30 years. Green in color and very social, they make good bird pets. Their smaller size is easier on the wallet since smaller cages, toys, and perches have lower costs. Their vocalization is usually higher pitched and squeaky.
Hyacinth Macaws are known for being able to talk, but they are among the less talkative macaw varieties. Vocabulary can vary widely among individual birds, and their vocalizations are lower in tone. Like any large macaw, they love to chew on wooden items and can damage furniture, shelving, chairs, and other things if left unsupervised.
Many other macaw varieties have talking abilities in varying degrees.
(Truth #4) Acceptance that macaws may talk incessantly, sometimes very loudly (sometimes when you wish they wouldn’t) is a prerequisite to keeping them as pets.
Rose-breasted and Yellow-crested Cockatoos are sometimes called the white talking parrot. The names differentiate the cockatoo varieties with the reddish feathering for rose-breasted and yellow head plumage for the yellow-crested cockatoo. Size ranges from 12 to 18 inches.
Like other large parrots, chewing, squawking, chirping, and calling loudly come with the territory. They are certainly not suited for apartment dwellers or anyone who gets frustrated by loud noises that can sometimes wear on even the most experienced pet bird keepers.
(Truth #5) Cockatoos sometimes live more than 40 years, so plan on a lifetime of caring, cleaning, maintaining, and veterinary visits.
These majestic parrots have a life span of 60+ years and are among the smaller parrots with more than 13 inches in length.
The Yellow-napped Amazon is considered the best talking Amazon variety and vocalization are often quite clearly articulated. They are among the best birds to learn tricks and skills. Similar to African Greys, they require a lot of stimulation, hands-on ownership, and time away from their cages actively engaged in activities. They are prone to behavior issues without much exercise and mental stimulation, such as feather-plucking, unwanted screaming, destructive behavior, etc.
Orange-winged and blue-fronted are two other beautiful varieties of Amazon parrots.
Comparable in size to the Amazon parrots, the Eclectus lives more than 20 years on average. Speech clarity is excellent, rivaling African Greys. Overall vocabulary is good, with the ability to sing quite well at times.
If you are interested in bird ownership for companionship, the Eclectus is a worthy choice.
Helpful Tips for Parrots
Keeping a notebook or a notepad in your pocket can be helpful when you are around your parrot pets. Write down new words and phrases you hear them say so that you can reinforce (i.e., repeat) or discourage (i.e., avoid repeating) the behavior.
Another valuable tip for communicating with your pet bird is to speak slowly and clearly while training them. You want to be firm but not overbearing to fear your bird friend.
Keep your voice down and only use clear, simple words when talking to your parrot. If you are trying to tell your bird that they have made a mess of the area around the cage, spilled their water dish, or messed up the room where they spend time out of the cage while you weren’t looking, use clear, simple words. Never yell at your pet parrot.
Age Limitations in Communication
Parrots are known to be excellent mimics and learn human words very quickly. They are incredibly good at imitating sounds and phrases.
Often, pet owners have a misconception that their pet birds can understand human words when they might just be mimicking sounds. It’s challenging to teach your parrot new words and phrases. De-emphasizing the potential for talking when your bird is young – letting it happen if it will but do not be disappointed or surprised if it doesn’t – is a good approach.
It can be frustrating when your pet bird is eager to get humans’ attention but cannot interact because they don’t understand what you are saying. They often attempt to gain your attention by screaming or yelling, much like toddlers.
Advice for New Parrot Owners
- Please do your best not to reward this behavior, but it’s probably inevitable.
- Demanding food treats or out-of-cage time are typical examples where the bird attempts to train its owner, rather than the other way around.
- Some of these birds have the intelligence rivaling a 2-year-old child!
Parrots are fantastic pets, make for some of the best companions, and often live long, healthy, and happy lives. But, as with any living animal, it can be challenging to understand their needs and wants.
- Parrots mimic both good and bad sounds
- Not all pet parrots will talk using human language
- Caring for birds is a calling, not a hobby
- Almost all birds can be loud at times – some extremely LOUD
- Prepare for a lifetime commitment
Also, keep in mind that ongoing costs for a bird range from $100 – $200 per month (or more), and those costs continue for supplies the bird will need for food, talking parrot toys, treats, supplies, any necessary medications, pet insurance, and medical care.
Establishing a relationship with a good avian veterinarian is an absolute must. Take young birds to the veterinarian for regular check-ups and factor that into your financial considerations before purchasing, adopting, or agreeing to foster a large parrot.
Suppose you are interested in learning more about the topics discussed above. In that case, you might want to consider a visit to the local library, locally owned bookstore, or pet store for further research about the challenges and rewards of being a great bird owner.
Proper expectations will prevent regrets later on. Please take your time. Owning a bird is a serious commitment, and you need to understand before purchasing who will care for the bird if you cannot do so. Some owners even include care for their parrots in their will.