Today’s Wonder of the Day was inspired by Dominic. Dominic Wonders, “Can parrots actually talk?” Thanks for WONDERing with us, Dominic!
Do you have pets? Or just love animals? If so, you may have wished from time to time that you could have real conversations with them. Wouldn’t it be nice to talk to your dog about your day?
Possibly! Experts say parrots probably do not understand meanings of most words. However, they are aware of the context surrounding words and can make associations with the words. For example, a researcher named Tim Wright explained why a parrot might ask “How are you?” when you enter the room. It’s likely not asking about your well-being. Instead, the parrot imitates the words it has heard you say many times upon walking into a room. Your parrot has made an association between you entering the room and that phrase.
Repeating sounds you’ve heard many times before is called mimicry. The “talking” we hear from parrots is mimicry of all sorts of sounds. They imitate many things, from spoken words to creaking doors to barking dogs.
Most parrots are simply mimicking their owners. They don’t really know what they’re saying. But some professionally-trained parrots have learned to understand what they’re saying. One such bird was an African Grey Parrot called Alex. Alex was trained to understand and use language. By the end of his life, Alex could name 50 objects, seven colors, and six shapes. He could even count up to eight!
Did you know that parrots don’t have vocal cords like humans? It’s true! Parrots don’t push air over vocal cords to create sound. Instead, they use the muscles in their throat to direct air over the trachea (windpipe). They make different sounds by changing the depth and shape of the trachea.
If you’re WONDERing why some birds imitate sounds they hear, it’s because they’re creatures. They feel a need to interact and fit in with those around them. When kept as pets, these birds see their human owners as their family and want to communicate with them.
Since a human owner usually can’t learn a bird’s “language,” the bird learns the language of its owner. These birds are often quite intelligent. Mimicry becomes a way for them to get attention and interact with their owners.
Do you want to have a bird that talks? The best thing to do is to find a bird that already knows how to imitate sounds. You’ll still need to spend lots of time training it. Give it plenty of positive interactions to encourage more “talking.”
Standards: CCRA.L.3, CCRA.L.6, CCRA.R.1, CCRA.R.2, CCRA.R.4, CCRA.R.10, CCRA.SL.1, CCRA.SL.2