Understanding Why Parrots Talk

Because parrots are social creatures, they need a form of communication to be able to interact. But what if there's no parrot around to talk with? Should the house parrot languish away, waiting for another parrot to share its language? Parrots are fussy creatures, but they aren't stupid. A parrot comes to understand pretty quickly that the humans around it are its social group — its flock, so to speak. Because the humans in the home aren't equipped to learn the parrot's language (nor do most of them want to), the parrot begins to learn the language of its area, of its clan. This is a powerful way for the parrot to become part of the group. In the bird's mind, learning the language of the home is the primary way of getting noticed and getting its needs met. A parrot that talks or mimics other sounds in the home is a parrot that's interested in the humans around it, just as a wild bird is interested in the other birds in the area for nesting, finding food, or watching out for danger.

The primary requirement you need in teaching a bird to talk is a good relationship with the bird. A frightened or abused bird is more likely to stay very quiet so that it isn't noticed, or perhaps to scream all day because it's lonely. A happy, content bird is one that makes noise to say, "Hey, I'm here; look at me; play with me!" This is where the first attempts at talking begin. A young bird will make vocalizations that sound similar to sounds in the world around it in an attempt to communicate with its humans, get attention, or at least to fit in. If the bird's human praises the bird for these attempts, the bird will continue to learn.

If you're starting out with a species known as a great talker, like a budgie, an African grey, or an Amazon parrot, simply talk to the bird during your daily interactions with it. When you approach it in the morning, say, "Good morning," and when you put it to bed at night, say, "Good night." The same goes for feeding. Name all the things you give the bird — seed, water, apple, grape, carrot, and so on. When you move your bird from place to place, tell it where you both are going: "We're going to the kitchen." Talk to your bird the way you would talk to an intelligent child, but don't use baby talk, or that's what the bird will learn.

A bird's first attempts at talking may sound like babble. Eventually, the babble will become clearer and will form into words and sounds. In a budgie, talking may come as early as six months of age; in an African grey, real talking may take nine months to over a year, depending on the individual. Amazon parrots should be talked to a lot for the first couple of years — an older Amazon may never learn to talk well if it didn't learn when it was a youngster. Remember, some individuals will not learn to talk at all.

The second most important thing for getting your bird talking, after having a good relationship with it, is praise. Praise can be as simple as turning to the bird, making eye contact, and saying, "Good bird!" Birds love attention from their humans, and you can use that to your advantage. However, you don't want to praise unclear words too highly. Save your highest praise for clearly stated words that you would like to remain in your parrot's vocabulary.

Once a bird is talking freely, you can begin teaching select words and phrases simply by repeating them over and over, but the trick is to use emphasis. Make the words sound exciting. Many parrots learn to curse in this way — when you stub your toe, you may spit out a string of curses that will sound exciting to the parrot, because there is so much energy behind them.

There are talking tapes and CDs available online or at your local bird shop, or you can make one of your own. The problem with this is that the bird may become bored or frustrated with listening to the tape over and over. If you do choose this method, make sure that training sessions are no more than 20 minutes twice a day.

Finally, the television and the radio can teach your parrot to talk, though the bird may not always pick up what you'd like to hear over and over.

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