Birds are the only creatures in the world that can imitate human speech. There are only a small number of talking birds, but they can speak thanks to their advanced brains. They also mimic human speech to fit in with their flock.
Parrots are the most advanced bird speakers in the world. African greys are considered the most intelligent speakers, but Eclectus and Amazon parrots aren’t far behind. Cockatiels, quaker parrots, parakeets, cockatoos, macaws, and budgies are also talented talkers. While their abilities aren’t quite as advanced as parrots, crows, ravens, Australian magpies, starlings, and mockingbirds can talk. Myna birds can also mimic human speech and boast a repertoire of approximately 100 words.
Birds can only learn human speech if they hear certain words repeated over and over. You can teach your pet to talk by adopting a consistent, regular training routine, encouraging your bird to imitate the sounds it hears.
Why Can Some Birds Talk?
Birds can talk because their brains are similar to ours. The two vital elements are the:
The cortex controls perception, sensory information, memory, and language, while the cerebellum controls voluntary motor functions. Both parts of the brain work in tandem, allowing birds to vocalize.
Because the cerebellum and cortex are located away from each other, they’re connected by a neural highway called the pontine nuclei, which transfers information between them.
Researchers at the University of Alberta theorized that parrots, in particular, have large pontine nuclei, which is what allows them to talk in the same way as us. However, they quickly realized this wasn’t true and discovered that instead of pontine nuclei, they have a medial spiriform nucleus, which has the same function and is only found in birds.
Researchers also found a correlation between the size of the cortex and the size of the medial spiriform nucleus, giving birds a more advanced pathway to be able to become great vocal learners.
Birds also 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 those that don’t, giving them their imitation abilities.
Why Do Birds Talk?
Most birds learn to mimic human words and phrases because they see their owners as part of their flock and want to fit in.
In the wild, birds share information with other parrots through sounds and calls. Being part of a flock gives birds a better chance of survival, providing protection from predators and allowing them to forage for food together.
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 birds don’t have vocal cords, they cannot actually, talk but they mimic the sounds they hear.
Instead of vocal cords, 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 moves and works independently, allowing birds to produce different sounds simultaneously by changing the syrinx’s depth and shape.
Why Can Birds Talk and Not Other Animals?
No other animals on Earth can mimic human speech. This is primarily because of how developed the medial nucleus is and how underdeveloped the pontine nuclei are in mammals.
Unlike other animals, birds match the sensory input from the cortex with the voluntary motor function the cerebellum handles to mimic what they hear.
Do Birds Understand Us?
Even though birds have impressive mimicking abilities, it’s unlikely they understand the meanings behind the words and phrases they say. When owners repeatedly interact with their birds, they may gain some contextual awareness, but this all stems from behavior rather than an understanding of the meanings.
For example, if you say “hello” to your bird every time you walk into a room, it will copy you and learn that it makes sense to utter it when you enter the room. For owners, this will seem as if the bird understands what hello means, but realistically, it just knows when to say it.
Similarly, some birds can hold a conversation with their owners. Again, however, this doesn’t mean the bird understands what it’s saying.
What Are the Different Talking Bird Species?
While not many bird species are able to mimic human speech, parrots aren’t the only birds that can talk. Not all talking birds make suitable pets, but it’s no doubt impressive that they have these abilities.
If you’re looking to find out which birds talk the most, we’ve put together a list of talking birds below.
Can Crows Talk?
Crows have similar mimicking abilities to parrots. While it’s not likely you’ll come across a wild crow that can talk, captive crows or birds who spend a lot of time around humans learn to imitate words and phrases. The best talking crows live in zoos and wildlife centers. They predominantly caw to communicate, but they also draw upon their mimicking abilities.
Crows have excellent memories and can recognize faces, which is why they’re able to copy human speech. They also react loudly when other crows die, highlighting just how powerful their brains are.
According to Corvid Research, researchers presented large-billed crows with a playback of a familiar and unfamiliar language. They discovered that they could discriminate between human languages without training.
Can Ravens Talk?
Ravens are one of the most intelligent bird species in the world. In captivity, ravens can be trained to talk even better than parrots. They can also mimic sounds, such as animal calls, flushing, car engines, and beeps from appliances.
Ravens have a repertoire of around 100 words on average. They also have deep voices that they use to sing and mimic other animal sounds.
Like crows, wild ravens are unlikely to pick up human words and phrases, but ravens in zoos and wildlife centers will. The more you interact with a raven, the more it’ll learn to mimic what you’re saying. Alongside talking, ravens make the following sounds:
- Short, repeated shrill calls
- Deep rasping calls
- Rapid knocking sounds
- Bill snapping
This extensive sound repertoire makes ravens such fascinating creatures.
Can Myna Birds Talk?
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.
Not only do they whistle and screech, but they mimic human speech clearly and concisely, putting their abilities up there with parrots. They can mimic around 100 words but require repetition and patience in order to pick them up.
However, some develop a more extensive vocabulary than others. Talking with expression in your voice can help them build their skills. Building a strong bond before you start teaching your myna bird is also an effective training technique, as your bird will be more willing to mimic what you say. It must feel comfortable and secure before you get started.
Most myna birds say their first “hello” at around 3-4 months, meaning you can build on their skills from this point.
Can Starlings Talk?
European starlings are more intelligent than most other birds. Some believe they can talk better than parrots, but this is up for debate. 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 range of sounds into their songs.
Can Mockingbirds Talk?
Northern mockingbirds aren’t as good at imitating speech as parrots, ravens, and crows, but captive mockingbirds learn to copy human sounds. In fact, their scientific name, Mimus polyglottos, means “mimic of many tongues.”
Males mimic and sing more than females and boast a greater range of vocalizations. This is because males must attract females for mating and do so through their vocal abilities.
Can Lyrebirds Talk?
Lyrebirds are capable of mimicking any sound in the world, including human speech, chainsaws, car engines, and music. They don’t only mimic these sounds, but they do so accurately.
Even lyrebirds that remain free but interact with humans can mimic human speech. They listen to people who are nearby 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 better mimicking abilities.
Can Australian Magpies Talk?
Australian magpies living in close proximity to 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 faces of humans and animals, highlighting how impressive their memories and brains work.
Can Parrots Talk?
As we’ve already mentioned, parrots are among the most talented talkers on Earth. Not all parrot species can mimic, but those that can are good at it. The following parrot species are excellent talkers:
African Grey Parrots
African greys are the best talkers of all parrots. A study published by Applied Animal Behavior Science found that they can use human speech in the same way as young children. Not only are they able to say basic commands, but they can recall and recite numbers.
These advanced cognitive skills are what make them such popular pets and are why they’re regarded as 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. Even leaving the TV or radio on around your African grey will encourage it to pick up words and phrases.
Timneh African grey parrots start mimicking earlier than Congo African greys. If you want the best talking bird, choose the former.
Amazon parrots are fun and outgoing. They’re also 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. This is what allows them to sing so well. They pick up words and phrase fast, doing so with little training. However, if owners do spend time training them, their talking abilities become even more impressive.
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 excellent Amazon parrot speakers include:
- Yellow-crowned Amazon parrot
- Double yellow head Amazon parrot
- Yellow-naped Amazon parrot
However, while Amazon parrots are excellent speakers, not all will pick up the same amount of words and phrases. Some are slower to learn than others, while a few won’t pick any words at all. It all depends on your bird’s personality and its willingness to talk.
Cockatiels are a quieter parrot species compared to others. They don’t have the same extensive vocabulary as Amazon parrots and African greys, but they can pick up a few basic words and phrases, such as “hello” and “pretty bird.” The fewer syllables you try to teach your cockatiel, the more your bird will be able to repeat.
Cockatiels begin talking when they’re around eight months old. However, if you start training your bird earlier than this, it’ll pick up far more words and phrases and can progress to more complicated sounds. They learn best through repetition, so repeating words over and over will help cockatiels get a grasp of what they’re saying.
Interestingly, male cockatiels speak more often than females, but all of them can be taught to talk. As long as they’re willing and enjoy the learning process, they’ll attempt to repeat words and phrases.
Quaker parrots are excellent talkers and mimic human sounds exceptionally well. Many quakers learn by listening to their owners, repeating what they hear. They also learn the words and phrases they find the most interesting. However, if quakers don’t develop an interest in talking, they’ll never try. Because of this, not all quakers develop talking abilities.
When quaker parrots talk, they make a chattering sound, which sounds similar to the sound of a radio on in the background. They also speak very clearly when they want to. Talking indicates they’re happy and relaxed, so it’s an upbeat sound. Take it as a compliment – your parrot feels comfortable around you.
One problem you may find is that once your quaker starts talking, you’ll find it hard to get it to stop.
Eclectus parrots are considered among the three top parrot species for talking abilities. Eclectus parrots are able to build a bank of human words and become chatty when they’ve developed an extensive enough repertoire. They’re highly intelligent creatures, so they respond well to training.
Eclectus parrots are also prone to self-destructive behaviors, including feather plucking and mutilation. Training them to speak provides the mental stimulation they need to be mentally healthy and minimizes the risk of stress.
Train your Eclectus parrot while it’s young, or it’s at risk of becoming noisy. Once your parrot’s learned several words, keep training it, as it’ll continue to develop its bank of words. Teaching your bird to speak is an excellent training tool and keeps their brains sharp.
Many cockatoos are expert talkers and are among the best talking bird species. There are many different types of cockatoos, and while some are better than others, they all can learn words and phrases with consistent training from a young age.
Out of all cockatoos, Galah, sulphur-crested, and cockatiels are best at mimicking human speech. They can say around 20-30 different words in total, particularly if they often listen to the TV or radio, or observe their owners talking.
That being said, they don’t have the most extensive repertoire of words when compared to other parrot species. Cockatoos also babble and say words and phrases that have no meaning. That’s because they repeat what they think they hear. You can correct this by repeating the words repeatedly until your cockatoo learns to say them properly.
If you have a cockatoo that gets words wrong, bear in mind that the ability to imitate complex sounds is rare, so your bird may never be an expert talker.
Like other large parrots, macaws have a reputation for their advanced mimicking abilities. They’re able to learn up to 100 human words and even use them in context. If you train them early enough, macaws start talking when they’re around 4 or 5 months old. However, most develop speaking skills when they’re 8 months.
Amusingly, a group of macaws was once removed from an English wildlife park because they swore at guests. Five parrots were quarantined together in one room, where they reportedly taught each other curse words.
Because staff laughed at this behavior, the macaws encouraged each other to swear even more. The swearing didn’t stop, so staff returned them to view to provide some light-hearted fun to guests.
Also, if you get a macaw, beware – they’re loud birds and can be deafening when they talk. This isn’t something they can help; it’s part of their nature.
If you’re wondering, “can budgies talk?” they’re actually some of the friendliest talking birds and possess an impressive repertoire of words, despite their small stature. In fact, they can talk better than many larger parrot species. Some budgies are able to 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 better than most.
It can take a while to train a budgie how to talk, ranging from a couple of weeks to several months. Once they’ve picked up a few words, they find it easier to extend their vocabulary. However, this does require patience and consistency from budgie owners, as they’re not pre-programmed to talk.
Like many other parrot species, male parrots are better at talking than females. Females can learn, but it takes more time and effort to train them.
How To Train a Bird To Talk
Training your bird to talk is a fun, rewarding experience. However, it requires a lot of time and patience, so it’s something you must do consistently in order to get results. The key is to remain positive and don’t get disheartened if your bird doesn’t mimic words and phrases as quickly as you’d like. Some birds take a little longer than others.
That being said, train your bird using these steps:
Learn About Your Bird
If you’ve already done your research and purchased a bird that should be able to talk, you can skip this step. But before you start anything, find out more about your bird’s species to see if it’s likely to mimic. If you have a bird that isn’t known for its mimicking skills, focus on doing other things with it instead. You’ll only waste your time otherwise.
Build a Relationship
We’ve already mentioned that building a relationship with your bird is the best way to help it learn. Birds capable of speech tend to be sociable animals that enjoy crafting bonds with their owners. Once your bird trusts you and gets used to your voice, it’ll become comfortable and confident enough around you to start mimicking what you say. To build a relationship:
- Frequently interact with your bird
- Provide mental stimulation through toys and games
- Handle your bird every day
- Offer treats and tasty food
Use Simple Words
Once you’ve created a bond with your bird, begin the training process by talking to it using simple words, such as:
- “Pretty bird”
Hold the bird as close to your mouth as possible and ensure you have its full attention. Repeat your chosen word or phrase over and over, saying it in a slow, clear, and concise way so that your bird can fully hear and understand. Only do this for a few minutes at a time, or your bird will become bored.
Ensure Your Bird Has Fun
While you’re training your bird to speak, make it as fun as possible by offering treats and affection as a reward for repeating the word – or coming close, at the very least. However, avoid rewarding your bird if it refuses to do anything.
Give your bird a variety of sounds to repeat to prevent fatigue and boredom. If you sing the word or phrase, your bird’s more likely to copy you.
Another good idea is to play recordings of the words and phrases you’d like to teach your bird. You can also leave the radio and TV on every now and then to encourage your bird’s brain to start understanding sounds and phrases. However, don’t leave them on for too long – play them for a few minutes at a time.
Never get frustrated or angry at your bird. Some pick things up far more slowly than others. Others never learn to speak at all – it all depends on your bird’s personality and its willingness to learn.
How Much Do Talking Birds Cost?
Unfortunately, owning a raven, mockingbird, or crow without a permit is illegal in all US states. Even then, you need a good reason to have one. It’s not impossible, but they don’t make the best pets anyway because they’re too wild. The good news is talking parrots are available to purchase as pets and often do well in captivity.
It costs the following to buy talking birds for pets:
|Bird Species||Average Cost (USD)|
|Crow||Illegal to own in the US|
|Raven||Illegal to own in the US|
|Myna Bird||$500 – $1,500|
|Starlings||Must be rescued|
|Mockingbirds||Illegal to own in the US|
|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 bird that talks is a fun and rewarding experience, but the skills don’t necessarily come easy. Owners must take time and use patience when training their birds to unlock their full potential.