Birds are the only animal that can imitate human speech. Only a few talking birds exist (like parrots, starlings, and ravens), but they can speak due to their advanced brain structure and syrinx.
Birds don’t have lips, teeth, or vocal cords, so it’s amazing that they can imitate human speech.
Birds have a vocal organ in their breast called a syrinx. This 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 words and sounds by changing the syrinx’s depth and shape.
Do Birds Understand Humans?
Even though some bird species have impressive human-like speech abilities, they don’t understand the meaning behind the words they learn to say.
When owners repeatedly interact with birds, they sometimes gain contextual awareness of the words, which stems from behavior rather than understanding the meaning.
If you say “hello” to a 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 just knows when to say it.
What Are the Different Talking Bird Species?
While few species can mimic human languages, like English, parrots aren’t the only birds that can talk. Not all talking birds make good pets, but the following species can talk like humans:
While you won’t come across a wild crow that can talk, captive crows that spend time around humans can learn to repeat English words.
The best talking crows live in zoos and wildlife centers. They mainly caw to communicate but sometimes talk like humans.
Crows have good memories and can recognize faces, meaning 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 can distinguish between human languages without training.
In captivity, ravens can be trained to talk and mimic sounds, like animal calls, car engines, and appliances.
Ravens can develop a repertoire of around 100 words. They use their deep voices 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 like crows, but ravens in zoos and wildlife centers do. The more you interact with a raven, the better it’ll mimic what you say.
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 usually found in the Western 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, which requires significant repetition and patience.
Some myna birds develop a more extensive vocabulary than others. Talking with expression in your voice can enable them to advance their skills. Most myna birds say their first “hello” after 3-4 months.
European starlings are considered an invasive species.
Not only do starlings talk, but they mimic the sounds of other animals, including goats, frogs, and cats.
They copy household sounds, including alarms, bells, and appliances.
Starlings mimic to protect territory and attract mates, incorporating these 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 may copy human sounds.
Males mimic and sing more than females and boast a more extensive repertoire. That’s because males attract females during the breeding season 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 speech. They listen to 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 are better talkers.
Australian magpies that live near humans often 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 and around human habitats, zoos, and wildlife centers.
Magpies can also recognize the faces of humans and animals, highlighting the efficacy of their long-term memories.
Certain parrot species are among the most talented talkers. Not all parrots can mimic, but the following species are among the most skilled communicators:
African Grey Parrots
African greys are the best talking parrots. Usually, Timneh African grey parrots start mimicking earlier than Congo African greys.
A study by Applied Animal Behavior Science found that African greys can use human speech like 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 can learn over 1000 words, which they can be trained to use in context.
Amazon parrots are excellent talkers and singers, amassing an impressive repertoire of words and phrases.
Amazons have sweeter, softer voices than most other birds, allowing them to sing surprisingly well.
They pick up words fast, doing so with little training. However, their talking abilities develop when people spend time training them.
Blue-fronted Amazon parrots are the most advanced speakers in their species. Not only can they mimic well, but they speak in realistic human tones. Other good Amazon parrot talkers include:
- Yellow-crowned Amazon parrots.
- Double yellow head Amazon parrots.
- Yellow-naped Amazon parrots.
While Amazon parrots are usually good talkers, some are slower learners or will never speak.
Quaker parrots are good talkers, developing an extensive vocabulary. Male and female Quakers are considered equally good talkers.
Unlike many birds, they have a very clear voice and can be easily understood by everyone.
Most Quaker parrots learn to speak when they reach 6 months old.
The earlier you start training, the more likely the bird is to speak. Older parrots can sometimes learn to talk, but it’ll be more difficult and take longer.
Teach birds words they find fun to say, and they’re more likely to talk. A happy Quaker parrot is a more willing learner with more desirable behaviors.
Eclectus parrots are excellent talkers with clear speaking voices. Amusingly, their voices are high-pitched, like young girls.
They can build a bank of human words and become chatty once they’ve developed an extensive enough repertoire.
Eclectus parrots are highly intelligent birds who respond well to speech training, enjoying the bonding experience with humans.
Train an Eclectus parrot to talk while it’s young, or it’ll just make wild vocalizations, like honking sounds.
Cockatoos are moderate talkers. 21 types of cockatoos exist, but some are better at human mimicry than others.
Some cockatoos species don’t speak, regardless of training.
The Galah, sulphur-crested, and cockatiels are best at mimicking human speech. They can develop a vocabulary of about 20-30 words.
Cockatoos often babble and say words and phrases without meaning because they repeat what they think they hear. They’re noisy birds that produce ear-piercing screams.
If you want a smaller and quieter member of the cockatoo family, cockatiels can learn 15-25 words.
Macaws have average mimicking abilities because they’re so interested in objects in their environment. Some species speak, and some don’t.
Most can learn 10-20 human words, sometimes in context. With training, macaws develop speaking skills after 8 months.
A Hahn’s macaw (red-shoulder macaw) is recommended if you want a talking macaw. They’re mini macaws, and many Hahn’s develop a vocabulary of up to 50 words.
Macaws are fun-loving birds, especially males, but they’re very loud.
Budgerigars (American Parakeets)
If you’re wondering, “Can budgies talk?” they can develop an impressive repertoire of words, despite their small stature.
Budgies can talk better than many larger parrot species, learning more than 1000 words.
According to Guinness World Records, a male budgie called Puck amassed a vocabulary of a staggering 1728 words.
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.
Male budgies are better at talking because they must impress females with their vocal abilities.
How Much Do Talking Birds Cost?
Owning a raven, mockingbird, or crow without a permit is illegal in all U.S. states. Talking parrots are usually legal as pets, often thriving in captivity. It costs the following to buy talking pet birds:
|Bird Species||Average Cost (USD)|
|Crows||Illegal to own in the U.S.|
|Ravens||Illegal to own in the U.S.|
|Myna birds||$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 parrots||$1,500 – $3,500|
|Eclectus parrots||$1,000 – $3,000|
|Amazon parrots||$400 – $1,000|
|Cockatiels||$120 – $250|
|Quaker parrots||$250 – $500|
|Parakeets||$200 – $2,500|
|Cockatoos||$2,000 – $4,000|
|Macaws||$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.
Here’s an in-depth guide to the cost of buying a talking pet parrot.