Teaching your pet bird to talk

Teaching your pet bird to talk

One of the main appeals for many people of keeping a pet bird is the potential to get their bird talking. A talking parrot, parakeet, budgie or other bird is often highly entertaining and funny to listen to, and many birds will begin to mimic the sounds and speech that they hear on a daily basis without any encouragement at all. This is perhaps not so good if they hear a lot of swearing or become adept at mimicking the sound of the phone or an alarm clock! If you buy an adult pet bird that has previously lived with people, they may already have built up a small vocabulary, although they may be unwilling to add new words and phrases to it. Buying a younger bird means that they are less likely to have already been trained to speak, but they should be significantly easier to train and get talking than an older bird that is set in their ways will be.

Talking and intelligence

Talking birds fall at every stage of the intelligence spectrum, and intelligence is not inextricably tied with the ability to speak. Intelligent birds will generally be able to retain a larger vocabulary and repertoire of sounds, although even birds such as budgies that are not considered to be the most intelligent of birds will potentially be able to repeat sounds that they hear regularly with enough exposure to the same noises.

Understanding vs. Mimicry

It is important to note that even if a bird can speak short sentences and has a relatively wide vocabulary, the words that they are speaking are simple mimicry, repeated verbatim and without context. Birds do not have the ability to learn and process the meaning of the words and sounds that they are repeating, and will not be able to hold a two-way conversation with you per se!

What type of birds can talk?

Various different types of bird species have the potential to talk, if they are so inclined! Some of the most popular talking birds and those that are considered to be the most likely to take to learning to talk include:

Most parrots and parakeets can potentially talk, although some are more inclined to than others! African greys are generally considered to be the species of bird that is most likely to be trainable to talk, due to their high level of intelligence and general willingness to please.

Can all birds of these types talk?

While all of the birds listed above have the physical ability to talk due to the structure of their throat and voice box, this does not mean that all of them will be inclined to do so! Some birds will never make a non-birdlike sound in their lives, despite significant effort being spent trying to teach them words! Others, however, may totally reject the words and sounds that they are being taught, choosing instead to pluck random words and sounds out of their daily lives and fixating on repeating them. Many birds though, when taught patiently, will be very open to learning words and repeating the phrases and sounds that you teach them, a process that can be very rewarding.

Tips for teaching your bird to talk

In order for your bird to get used to the sounds of human speech and try their hand at repeating it, they will of course need to be exposed to human speech for significant amounts of time! Whether this means talking to and around your bird regularly, or leaving the radio or TV on for your bird, getting used to the sounds of human speech is an important part of learning to talk.

  • Start with easy words and phrases: aiming for “Who’s a pretty boy then!” as their first words is likely to be rather ambitious. Short words that are not overly complex are the best words to begin with; words such as ‘nut,’ ‘seed,’ ‘hello,’ ‘bye’ etc., can be built upon, particularly if you reward with a treat for successful mimicry!
  • Birds like enthusiasm, and find it easiest to pick up words that have some emphasis behind them. This is why they may often reject learning a word that you repeat to them calmly for a protracted period, and yet may decide to repeat a swear word upon hearing you exclaim it just once in their presence!
  • Birds also learn from each other, so if you have more than one bird and one of them is a keen talker, you may find that this encourages an otherwise reticent bird to copy their words.
  • Birds can also forget and un-learn words that they do not hear regularly, so once you have successfully taught your bird a word, it is important to repeat it regularly and encourage them to continue to say it.
  • Male birds are generally more amenable to learning to talk and mimicking sounds than female birds, although this is by no means a firm rule.
  • Consider using recordings of the words or phrases that you want your bird to learn, and playing them over and over again while you are out or in another room. You may find that your parrot picks them up quickly, as repetition is often the key to encourage a bird to attempt to say a word.
  • Never get frustrated, angry or upset with your bird if they are unable or unwilling to talk. This is not only counterproductive, but unfair. If your bird does eventually begin to talk, you should view this is a bonus and not something that happens automatically.
  • If your bird seems to be a little slow on the uptake where talking is concerned, consider trying out some other sounds to get them started; many birds can whistle a simple tune, and may find this easier to mimic than words.
  • And finally, if you have a talking bird and don’t teach them to say “Help! They’ve turned me into a bird!” Then I will be grievously disappointed in you. Happy chatting!


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