Not all cockatoos are expert talkers, but all cockatoo species will attempt to mimic human speech and sounds. How effectively they do so depends on the cockatoo’s personality.
Galah, sulphur-crested, and cockatoos become good talkers with consistent training from a young age. Goffin, umbrella, and major Michell’s cockatoos aren’t the most talkative birds, preferring to vocalize through calls and screeches.
If you want your cockatoo to mimic what you say, repeating words is one of the most effective training methods. Some will never speak, but your cockatoo will have other traits that you’ll enjoy.
Do All Cockatoos Talk?
Cockatoos are good at mimicking human speech and sounds. Many of them have a soft, sweet-talking voice and can say around 20 to 30 words in total.
However, as mentioned, how accurate their mimicking abilities are will depend on the individual bird and how often their owners interact with them.
Birds that frequently listen to the TV and radio are more likely to mimic the sounds and phrases they hear.
That said, cockatoos don’t have the largest repertoire of words, especially compared to African grey parrots. It’s more common for them not to talk than mimic a range of human words and phrases.
Cockatoos babble or make sounds that have no meaning. This is what happens when cockatoos attempt to mimic a couple of people talking to each other. In the end, the sounds blend into one incomprehensible noise.
While babbling may make it seem as though your cockatoo doesn’t have good talking abilities, don’t be fooled. Cockatoos can’t understand language, so the fact they’re able to mimic two or more people is impressive.
How Do Cockatoos Learn to Talk?
It’s difficult to train cockatoos to talk, but it’s not impossible. Cockatoos are a parrot species that can mimic words, so owners can use consistent training techniques to encourage their cockatoo to speak. To do so:
- Use simple words, such as “hello,” “bye,” and “night-night,” and use a happy, enthusiastic tone.
- Repeat your chosen words over and over until your parrot starts to recognize them.
- Make use of additional training tools, including tape recorders and CDs.
- As soon as your cockatoo picks up these words, move onto new ones to continue its learning.
According to PLoS One, the ability to imitate complex sounds is rare. Researchers found that budgies have song system structures that hold the key to how parrots mimic words. Although they don’t know how this system works, all avian vocal learners, including cockatoos, have this.
When it comes to how cockatoos talk, they modify the air that flows over the syrinx, enabling them to make sounds. They use sounds to fit in with their flock, which protects against predators and gives them a better chance of survival.
What Age Do Cockatoos Start Talking?
There’s no guaranteed age for cockatoos to start talking. All birds are different, and their intelligence levels vary. This is also the case for the different cockatoo species.
Some cockatoos start mimicking words as early as 3 months old, whereas others won’t start until they’re at least 1 year old. However, most sit around the 6-8 month mark once they’ve matured slightly. Factors that affect the age cockatoos start talking include:
- How early you begin training your parrot to speak
- The parrot’s personality
- The gender, as males tend to talk more than females
- How willing your cockatoo is to talk
The sooner you start to interact with your cockatoo, the more likely it is to pick up words and phrases. If you never speak to your cockatoo, it’ll never mimic you. Similarly, if you purchase an old cockatoo or rescue one that’s established its personality, it may never speak.
Do Cockatoos Understand Us?
While some cockatoos can mimic words accurately, they can’t understand human speech. Cockatoos are likely to say words back to their owners because they recognize the sounds they make within a given context.
For example, owners who greet their cockatoos by saying “Hello” as they walk into the room are more likely to experience their parrot saying it back. This doesn’t mean they understand what the word means; it shows that cockatoos recognize the context of the interaction.
Similarly, humans tend to rush to appliances, such as microwaves and ovens, as soon as they beep. As a result, parrots treat the beeping sound like a human word. There’s no contextual meaning behind the beep, but cockatoos learn to understand that the sound draws their owner’s attention.
That being said, how much cockatoos can understand depends on how often their owners interact with them. Humans that spend time teaching their cockatoo words and phrases are far more likely to find their bird understands a more extensive repertoire of sounds. If they don’t, the sounds their parrots make aren’t going to be accurate.
Therefore, if you want to give your cockatoo the best chance of interacting with you, nurture its talking abilities from a young age, and engage in regular conversation to enable it to gain a contextual understanding of the things you say.
Can Cockatoos Understand English?
Cockatoos aren’t advanced enough to distinguish between the different human languages. They’re able to learn the languages of their owners, but only because they mimic the sounds they make. They don’t have an understanding of the language the noises are in.
This might surprise some owners, as it often sounds like they can understand what you’re saying. However, our brains fill in the blanks, making it seem like parrots have said words and phrases rather than nonsensical sounds.
That doesn’t mean you can’t have a conversation with your cockatoo. Their mimicry skills are so advanced that the sounds they make are often an authentic replica of the word.
Do Galah Cockatoos Talk?
Galah cockatoos, also known as rose-breasted cockatoos, are intelligent birds. In fact, they’re one of the cleverest cockatoos. They’re not as quick at talking as sulphur-crested cockatoos, but they’re one of the best cockatoo talkers.
While both sexes are good at imitating people’s voices, males are better than females. They’re also able to imitate everyday sounds, such as a whistle, telephone, or beep from an appliance. However, they need to hear the word over and over or constant training to do so.
Not only are galah cockatoos clever, but they enjoy doing things that impress and entertain their owners. That’s because, in the wild, they’re highly socialized birds who thrive in large flocks.
In the wild, galah cockatoos make a high-pitched sound as they fly around. When threatened, they make a loud screech.
Do Goffin Cockatoos Talk?
Goffin cockatoos aren’t considered the best talking birds. Some Goffin cockatoos frequently speak, while others don’t mimic sounds. Most can pick up a couple of words, but it depends on the cockatoo’s personality and intelligence levels.
Without proper training and socialization, Goffin cockatoos can be noisy birds. Because they’re so vocal, many owners make the mistake of assuming that they’ll talk on their own. That’s not the case as they need to be trained to speak.
While Goffin cockatoos respond well to training, don’t be disheartened if your cockatoo doesn’t develop talking abilities. This is normal. However, if you want a talking cockatoo, opt for a bird with better mimicking skills.
Do Umbrella Cockatoos Talk?
Umbrella cockatoos are friendly and like to interact with their owners. Umbrella cockatoos aren’t the most talkative birds. Instead, they scream and screech to communicate. They’re better at learning tricks.
Not all umbrella cockatoos learn to talk, and most don’t until they’re a little older. Similarly, it takes a lot of training to get them to do so. Some only learn a couple of words, while others can string a couple of sentences together.
Umbrella cockatoos can be noisy. They use their voices to get their owner’s attention, which is why they must be trained from a young age. Their environment must be happy and comfortable to keep them quiet.
Do Sulphur-Crested Cockatoos Talk?
Sulphur-crested cockatoos are the best mimickers and talkers of all cockatoos. They’re quick learners and can pick up a series of words and phrases with only a small amount of training. When they speak, their speech also sounds slightly slurred.
They also learn sounds, such as dog barks and power tools. When they do, they mimic speech in a funny, goofy way. This is what makes them such popular pets.
The problem with sulphur-crested cockatoos is that they’re loud and can make ear-splitting sounds. In the wild, they have a loud call that they use to contact their flock mates. These sounds have given them a reputation for being one of the less melodic birds.
As a result, they need an experienced owner with lots of time to spare to train and socialize their bird. They also can’t live in apartments because of their noise levels.
Do Major Mitchell’s Cockatoos Talk?
Major Mitchell’s cockatoos are one of the most distinctive and beautiful birds. They have a gentle temperament and colorful plumage that makes them highly sought-after pets.
They’re noticeably quieter than other cockatoos. They’re not good talkers, but they can mimic basic words. However, they prefer to copy whistles and alarm sounds, which they find easier to imitate.
Do Moluccan Cockatoos Talk?
Moluccan cockatoos aren’t the best talkers, but they will learn basic words. They tend to yell the words instead of saying them.
They screech and scream for attention more often than talking, which can be painful to listen to. They also do it for no apparent reason.
Do Red-Tailed Cockatoos Talk?
Red-tailed cockatoos are another quiet cockatoo species with a calm personality. Their natural calls consist of “craw” and “kree” sounds, which are comical and goofy. As long as your red-tailed cockatoo’s needs are met, it’ll remain quiet and peaceful.
However, red-tailed cockatoos are rare in both the wild and captivity, so potential owners are unlikely ever to get the chance to own and train one to speak.
What Other Sounds Do Cockatoos Make?
Cockatoos can talk and make a range of sounds to display their feelings and emotions. In some cases, you’ll hear your cockatoo make these sounds at the same time as talking as they attempt to mimic them. These sounds include:
Cockatoos make melodic whistling sounds, which they copy from their owners. This is a great way to communicate with your cockatoo. You can whistle to get your cockatoo used to mimicking you, eventually progressing to talking.
Most cockatoos find this more fun. However, some cockatoos may prefer to whistle instead of talking, causing them to lose the desire to mimic.
Mimicking is the sound of a happy, relaxed cockatoo that knows that it’s safe. Some cockatoos whistle when they’re bored and make the sound to get their owner’s attention.
Squawking and Screeching
Many species are noisy and frequently make loud-pitched screeches. This indicates that they fear that danger’s nearby. Some cockatoos screech and squawk every day. Unfortunately, this is a natural part of your bird’s communication repertoire, so you shouldn’t discourage screeching.
Some cockatoos squawk and screech before they go to bed. Umbrella, Moluccan, and Goffin’s cockatoos are prone to doing this than other cockatoo species. However, other species will squawk if they’re naturally nervous and scared.
If you frequently have the TV or radio on around your cockatoo, it’s likely to sing by copying the songs and sounds that it hears. This enables your parrot to learn basic words and phrases while you train your cockatoo to mimic. Singing is similar to talking and signifies when your cockatoo’s in a happy, chirpy mood.
Scientific American describes how captive cockatoos can sing lower notes than smaller pet birds, enabling them accurately mimic human speech.
When cockatoos hiss, it means that they’re feeling threatened. This is the step before biting, so be careful not to provoke your cockatoo. They also hiss due to:
- Intimidating cage mates or pets
- Unfamiliar objects in the cage
- A dislike of being touched
- A bad or anti-social mood
- Pain or illness
If you hear your cockatoo hiss, you’ll need to address what’s bothering them.
Cockatoos call out to find their flock mates. Their call is unique to the flock, allowing them to locate each other. In captivity, their owners become part of their flock, so they call out to them when they’re unsure of their whereabouts.
Calling can indicate anxiety and loneliness, so reveal yourself to put your cockatoo at ease and treat it to some affection. Ignoring your cockatoos is bad for its mental health, leading to sadness and depression.
You might find that your cockatoo doesn’t speak at all. Just because it belongs to a species that’s ‘can’ talk well doesn’t mean that it will. Use repetitive training techniques, but don’t force your cockatoo to talk if it seems distressed.