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Polly want a cracker? Many people get parrots as pets
because they are hoping to have a fun level of verbal interaction with these
unique and intelligent creatures. Peoples’
perception of avian verbal behavior can range from appreciating their bird’s amusing
mimicry of human speech to believing that they can hold conversation-level
discussions with their pet. While we won’t debate the level of the interactions
here, if you want a pet parrot that talks, what can you do to help this kind of
Theoretically all parrot species should be
able to learn human language, but some are less adept at “talking” than others.
African gray parrots, Amazon parrots, cockatoos and cockatiels are perhaps the
best-known talkers, but even small parrots, such as budgerigars (also known as
parakeets or budgies), Quaker parrots and lovebirds can be taught to speak over
time. These species are so intelligent that they can learn to speak
recognizable words, phrases and even sentences. If your priority is to have a
parrot that talks, you’re best to stick with one of the species better known
for an ability to speak. Other species commonly kept as pets, such as macaws,
caiques and Pionus and Senegal parrots, also may be taught to speak some words
but be aware they are typically less prolific talkers.
Regardless of what kind of bird you are
training, it’s best to start with one or two simple words, such as “hello,”
“bye-bye” or “bird.” Once the bird masters these words, you can add on other
words to form phrases and even sentences. That’s how many parrots learn whole
songs — by adding on a little at a time.
Birds learn to mimic words by hearing them
over and over, so be prepared to repeat a word many times before your bird
picks it up. This is how many birds learn to mimic environmental sounds, such
as the doorbell, microwave or telephone, without their owners teaching them.
Parrots will hear and take in sounds way before they actually start to mimic
them out loud. This is particularly common in African gray parrots who can be
the most prolific talkers but who often don’t start speaking until after 1 year
of age. So don’t be disappointed if your parrot doesn’t start repeating what
you say right away when you start trying to teach him new words.
Parrots learn best when the words they hear
are enunciated clearly each time they hear them. It’s critical that the teacher
(owner) not mumble his or her words but face the parrot directly and speak the
same words in the same tone each time. Using the same tone means using the
same inflection for a word each time you say it and emphasizing the same
syllables within a word in the same manner each time. Birds seem to learn more
quickly when a word is repeated to them in a high, enthusiastic pitch. The key
to mimicry in birds is clear repetition.
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