Birds are the only animal that can imitate human speech. There are only a relatively small number of talking birds, but they can speak due to their advanced brain structures and high intellects.
Birds can talk because their brain structures are similar to human brains, including the following:
The cortex controls perception, sensory information, memory, and language, while the cerebellum controls voluntary motor functions.
Because the cerebellum and cortex are located away from each other, they’re connected by a neural highway called the pontine nuclei, which transfer information between them.
Researchers at the University of Alberta found a correlation between the size of the cortex and the medial spiriform nucleus, giving birds a more advanced pathway to vocal learning and speaking.
Birds have more cells in the pallium, which are the grey and white matter covering the upper surface of the cerebellum. Talking birds have more of them than others, giving them their imitation abilities.
How Do Birds Talk Without Vocal Cords?
Birds don’t have lips, teeth, or vocal cords, which is why it’s so intriguing that they can imitate human speech. Because parrots don’t have vocal cords, they can’t talk, but they can mimic the sounds they hear.
Birds have a vocal organ in their breast called a syrinx, which is a muscular, fluid-filled cavity within the spinal cord or brain at the base of the trachea.
Each branch of the syrinx features a valve that works independently, allowing birds to produce different sounds by changing the syrinx’s depth and shape.
Do Birds Understand Humans?
Even though birds have impressive mimicking abilities, they’re very unlikely to understand the meaning behind the words and phrases they say.
When owners repeatedly interact with birds, they may gain some contextual awareness, but this stems from behavior rather than an understanding of the meanings.
If you say “hello” to your bird when walking into a room, it’ll learn to say it whenever you enter. This will seem like the bird understands what “hello” means, but it merely knows when to say it.
What Are the Different Talking Bird Species?
While few bird species can mimic human speech, parrots aren’t the only birds that can talk. Not all talking birds make suitable pets, but the following birds have these abilities:
While you won’t come across a wild crow that can talk, captive crows that spend time around humans learn to imitate words and phrases.
The best talking crows live in zoos and wildlife centers. They mainly caw to communicate but can draw upon their mimicking abilities.
Crows have good memories and can recognize faces, which is why they can copy human speech. They also react noisily when other crows die, highlighting their emotional depth and intelligence.
According to Corvid Research, researchers presented large-billed crows with a familiar and unfamiliar language playback. Crows could distinguish between human languages without training.
In captivity, ravens can be trained to talk and mimic sounds, such as animal calls, flushing, car engines, and beeps from appliances.
Ravens have a repertoire of around 100 words. They have deep voices that they utilize to sing and mimic other animal sounds.
Aside from talking, ravens make the following sounds:
- Short and repeated shrill calls
- Deep rasping calls
- Rapid knocking sounds
- Bill snapping
Wild ravens are unlikely to pick up human words and phrases like crows, but ravens in zoos and wildlife centers do. The more you interact with a raven, the better it’ll learn to mimic what you’re saying.
Mynas are softbill birds belonging to the starling family. The hill myna and the common myna are the two main types kept as pets, with the former most commonly found in the Western part of the world.
Myna birds whistle and screech, and they mimic human speech clearly and concisely, equating their abilities with parrots. They can mimic around 100 words, but it takes repetition and patience.
However, some myna birds develop a more extensive vocabulary than others. Talking with expression in your voice can enable them to build and advance their skills.
Building a strong bond before teaching a myna bird is an effective training technique, as it’ll be more willing to mimic what you say. Most myna birds say their first “hello” at around 3-4 months.
European starlings are more intelligent than most other birds.
They’re considered an invasive species, so they’re suitable to be kept as pets as long as they’re rescued and not bought.
Not only do starlings talk, but they mimic the sounds of other animals, including goats, frogs, and cats. They also copy household sounds, including alarms and beeps from appliances.
Starlings mimic to protect their territory and impress potential mates, incorporating a wide range of sounds into their songs.
The scientific name for mockingbirds, Mimus polyglottos, means “mimic of many tongues.”
Northern mockingbirds aren’t as good at imitating speech as parrots, ravens, and crows, but captive mockingbirds can learn to copy human sounds.
Males mimic and sing more than females and boast a greater repertoire. That’s because males must attract females for mating through their vocal abilities.
Lyrebirds can mimic any sound, including human speech, chainsaws, car engines, and music.
Even lyrebirds that remain free but interact with humans can mimic human speech. They listen to nearby humans and copy their words and vocal pitches.
There are two main types of lyrebirds: the Superb and the Albert. Superb lyrebirds are much larger, but Albert lyrebirds have superior mimicking abilities.
Australian magpies that live near humans talk and mimic speech.
You can’t own Australian magpies as pets, and it’s illegal to traffic them outside of their native Australia. However, they’re commonly found in human habitats, zoos, and wildlife centers.
Magpies can also recognize the faces of humans and animals, highlighting the efficacy of their memories.
Parrots are among the most talented avian talkers. Not all parrot species can mimic, but the following species are the most skilled communicators:
African Grey Parrots
African greys are the best talking parrots; Timneh African grey parrots start mimicking earlier than Congo African greys.
A study by Applied Animal Behavior Science found that they can use human speech the same way as young children because they can say basic commands and recall and recite numbers.
Their advanced cognition is why they’re regarded as the Einsteins of the parrot world.
Some African grey parrots amass a repertoire of over 100 words, which they can use in context during conversations with their owners.
It doesn’t even take much training to get their mimicry skills to this stage. So, leaving the TV or radio playing around an African grey will encourage them to develop new words and phrases.
Amazon parrots are excellent talkers and singers, amassing an impressive repertoire of words that showcases their advanced mimicking abilities.
Amazon parrots have sweeter, softer voices than most other birds, allowing them to sing well.
They pick up words and phrase fast, doing so with little training. However, their talking abilities will grow if owners spend time training them.
Blue-fronted Amazon parrots are the most advanced speakers of their kind. Not only can they mimic well, but they speak in human-like tones. Other good Amazon parrot talkers include:
- Yellow-crowned Amazon parrot
- Double yellow head Amazon parrot
- Yellow-naped Amazon parrot
However, while Amazon parrots are accomplished speakers, not all will pick up the same amount of words and phrases. Some are slower to learn than others, while others won’t pick any words.
Cockatiels are a quieter parrot species than others, so they don’t have the same extensive vocabulary as Amazon parrots and African greys.
They can pick up basic words and phrases, such as “hello” and “pretty bird.” The fewer the syllables, the more your cockatiel will repeat.
Cockatiels begin talking at about 8 months old. However, if you start training earlier, they’ll pick up more words and phrases, progressing to more complicated sounds.
They learn through repetition, so repeating words enables cockatiels to grasp what they’re saying.
Male cockatiels speak more often than females, but they can all be taught to talk.
Quaker parrots are good talkers and mimic human sounds well.
Many quakers learn by listening to their owners and repeating what they hear. They also learn words and phrases they find most interesting.
However, if quakers aren’t interested in talking, they’ll never attempt to talk. So, not all quakers develop talking abilities.
When quaker parrots talk, they make a chattering sound similar to a radio in the background. They also speak clearly when happy and relaxed, which is an upbeat sound.
Eclectus parrots are a leading parrot species for their talking abilities.
They can build a bank of human words and become chatty once they’ve developed an extensive enough repertoire. They’re highly intelligent birds, so they respond well to training.
Eclectus parrots are prone to self-destructive behaviors, including feather plucking and mutilation. So, training them to speak provides the mental stimulation they need to stay mentally healthy and stress-free.
Train your Eclectus parrot while it’s young, or it may become vocal and noisy.
Cockatoos are good talkers. There are various types of cockatoos, and while some are better talkers than others, they all can learn words and phrases with consistent training from a young age.
The Galah, sulphur-crested, and cockatiels are best at mimicking human speech. They can say 20-30 words, particularly if they often listen to the TV or radio or talk to their owners.
They don’t have the most extensive repertoire of words. Cockatoos often babble and say words and phrases without meaning because they repeat what they think they hear.
Macaws have advanced mimicking abilities. They can learn up to 100 human words and use them in context.
If you train them early enough, macaws start talking once they reach 4-5 months old. However, most develop speaking skills after 8 months.
If you get a macaw, be aware that they’re loud birds that can be noisy when they talk.
If you’re wondering, “can budgies talk?” they possess an impressive repertoire of words, despite their small stature.
Budgies can talk better than many larger parrot species; some can learn 100 words or more.
According to The Journal of the Acoustical Society of America, budgies have a complex learned vocal repertoire of sounds, enabling them to mimic words and phrases.
It can take a while to train a budgie to talk. Once they’ve picked up some words, they find it easier to extend their vocabulary. Also, male budgies are better at talking than female budgies.
How Much Do Talking Birds Cost?
Unfortunately, owning a raven, mockingbird, or crow without a permit is illegal in all U.S. states. Talking parrots are available as pets, often thriving in captivity.
It costs the following to buy talking birds for pets:
|Bird Species||Average Cost (USD)|
|Crow||Illegal to own in the U.S.|
|Raven||Illegal to own in the U.S.|
|Myna Bird||$500 – $1,500|
|Starlings||Must be rescued|
|Mockingbirds||Illegal to own in the U.S.|
|Lyrebirds||Not suitable as a pet|
|Australian Magpies||Illegal to own and traffic|
|African Grey Parrot||$1,500 – $3,500|
|Eclectus||$1,000 – $3,000|
|Amazon Parrot||$400 – $1,000|
|Cockatiel||$120 – $250|
|Quaker Parrot||$250 – $500|
|Parakeet||$200 – $2,500|
|Cockatoo||$2,000 – $4,000|
|Macaw||$1,000 – $5,000|
|Budgies||$10 – $35|
Owning a talking bird is fun and rewarding, but owners must take time and exercise patience when training their birds to unlock their full speaking potential.