Not all cockatoos are expert talkers, but they’ll attempt to mimic human speech or vocalize. How effectively they do so depends on when they start learning and the cockatoo’s personality.
When given consistent training from a young age, galah cockatoos and sulphur-crested cockatoos can become good talkers. Goffin, umbrella, red-tailed, Moluccan, and major Michell’s cockatoos aren’t the most talkative birds, as they prefer to vocalize through calls and screeches.
Repeating words is one of the most effective training methods to get your cockatoo to mimic what you say. Some cockatoos will never speak, but they’ll have other endearing traits.
Do All Cockatoos Talk?
Cockatoos are good at mimicking human speech and sounds. Many cockatoos have a soft, sweet-talking voice and can say around 20-30 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 likelier 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 far more common for them not to talk at all.
Cockatoos babble or make sounds that have no meaning, which happens when they attempt to mimic a couple of people talking to each other. In the end, the sounds blend into one incomprehensible noise.
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 mimic words, so owners can use consistent training techniques to encourage their cockatoos to speak. To do so:
- Use simple words, such as “hello,” “bye,” and “night-night,” in a happy, enthusiastic tone.
- Repeat your chosen words repeatedly 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 on to new ones to ensure it keeps learning.
The ability to imitate complex sounds is rare. Researchers found that budgies have song system structures that are key to how parrots mimic words. Although they don’t know how this system works, all avian vocal learners, including cockatoos, have this ability.
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 gives them a better chance of survival.
What Age Do Cockatoos Start Talking?
There’s no set age for cockatoos to start talking. All birds are different, and their intelligence levels vary, which 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 start at around the 6-8 month mark once they’ve matured slightly.
Factors that affect the age cockatoos start talking include:
- When you train 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 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, it may never speak if you purchase an old or rescue center cockatoo that has already established its personality and skills.
Do Cockatoos Understand Us?
While some cockatoos can mimic words, 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.
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 more likely to find their bird understands a more extensive repertoire of sounds. If they don’t, the sounds their parrots make will be inaccurate.
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 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.
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 their sounds are often authentic replicas of the word.
Which Cockatoo Talks The Best?
If you want a cockatoo that’s a good talker, consider one of these birds:
1/ Sulphur-Crested Cockatoos
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 little training. However, when they speak, their speech sounds slightly slurred.
They also learn sounds like a dog’s bark and power tools. When they mimic speech, they do so in an amusing way, making them popular pet cockatoos.
The problem with sulphur-crested cockatoos is that they’re loud and can make ear-splitting sounds. They have a loud call to contact their flock mates in the wild.
2/ Galah Cockatoos
Galah cockatoos, also known as rose-breasted cockatoos, are intelligent birds. They’re one of the cleverest cockatoos. They’re not as quick at talking as sulphur-crested cockatoos, but they’re among the best cockatoo talkers.
While both sexes are good at imitating people’s voices, males are better talkers than females. They can also imitate everyday sounds, such as a whistle, telephone, or beep from an appliance. However, they need to hear the word repeatedly to do so.
Not only are galah cockatoos clever, but they enjoy doing things that impress and entertain their owners. Galah cockatoos are highly socialized birds who thrive in large flocks.
Galah cockatoos make a high-pitched sound while flying. When threatened, they make a loud screech.
3/ Umbrella Cockatoos
Umbrella cockatoos are friendly and like to interact with their owners. They aren’t the most talkative birds, preferring to 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 older. Similarly, getting them to talk takes training; 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 comfortable to keep them quiet.
4/ Goffin Cockatoos
Some Goffin cockatoos frequently speak, while others don’t mimic sounds. Most can pick up a few 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 assume they’ll talk on their own, which isn’t 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.
5/ Red-Tailed Cockatoos
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 the wild and captivity, so potential owners are unlikely to get the chance to own and train one to speak.
6/ Major Mitchell’s Cockatoos
Major Mitchell’s cockatoos are one of the most distinctive and beautiful birds. They have a gentle temperament and colorful plumage, making 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.
7/ Moluccan Cockatoos
Moluccan cockatoos aren’t the best talkers, but they’ll learn basic words and tend to yell them. They also screech and scream for attention more often than talk, which can be painful to hear.
What Other Sounds Do Cockatoos Make?
Cockatoos can talk and make various sounds to display their feelings and emotions. Sometimes, you’ll hear your cockatoo make these sounds while talking. These sounds include:
Cockatoos make melodic whistling sounds, which they copy from their owners. You can whistle to get your cockatoo used to mimicking you, eventually progressing to talking.
Some cockatoos may prefer to whistle than talk, causing them to lose the desire to mimic.
Mimicking is the sound of a happy, relaxed cockatoo that feels safe. Some cockatoos whistle when bored and make the sound to get their owner’s attention.
Squawking and Screeching
Many cockatoo species are noisy and frequently make loud-pitched screeches, indicating they fear danger nearby. Some cockatoos screech and squawk every day, which is a natural part of their communication repertoire.
Some cockatoos squawk and screech before bedtime. Umbrella, Moluccan, and Goffin’s cockatoos are more prone to doing this than other cockatoo species.
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 mood.
Scientific American describes how captive cockatoos can sing lower notes than smaller pet birds, enabling them to 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 flock mates. Their call is unique to the flock so they can locate each other. In captivity, owners become part of their flock, so they call out to them when unsure of their whereabouts.
Calling can indicate anxiety and loneliness, so reveal yourself to put your cockatoo at ease and give it some affection. Ignoring your cockatoo is bad for its mental health, leading to depression.
Just because your cockatoo belongs to a bird species that can talk well doesn’t mean it will. Use repetitive training techniques, but don’t force your cockatoo to talk if it seems distressed.