how do cockatoos learn to talk?

Do All Cockatoos Talk?

Cockatoos are among the best talking birds. Not all are expert talkers, but all cockatoo species are willing to attempt to mimic. How effectively they do so depends on the bird’s personality and abilities.

Most cockatiels can learn and mimic basic human words and phrases. Galah, sulphur-crested, and cockatiels 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 with calls and screeches. However, if you repeat words to your cockatoo from a young age, then it will eventually learn to contextualize what it means.

If you want to get your cockatoo to mimic what you say, repeating words over and over is one of the most effective training methods. Some never speak, though. If so, try not to be too disappointed, as your cockatoo will have other traits and qualities you can enjoy instead.

Do All Cockatoos Talk?

Cockatoos are good at mimicking human speech and sounds. They have a soft, sweet talking voice and can say around 20 to 30 words in total. However, as we’ve mentioned, how accurate their mimicking abilities are depends on the individual bird and how often their owners interact with them.

Similarly, cockatoos that frequently listen to the TV and radio are more likely to mimic the sounds and phrases they hear. That being 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 an extensive range of human words and phrases.

Cockatoos also 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 if 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 talking is impressive, regardless of whether it makes sense or not.

How Do Cockatoos Learn to Talk?

It’s difficult to train cockatoos, but it’s not impossible. It does take time, patience, and perseverance, though. Cockatoos are one of the 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 whenever you speak to your cockatoo.
  • 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 experts believe 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 actually 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 for survival.

do cockatoos understand what they are saying?

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 a year. 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 bird, it’ll never try to mimic you.

Similarly, if you purchase an old cockatoo or rescue one that’s also established its personality, it may never speak at all, even if you attempt to train it.

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 simply 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 plenty of time teaching their parrot 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 help it gain a contextual understanding of the things you say.

Can Cockatoos Understand English?

Like all parrots, 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 parrot owners, as it often sounds like they can understand what you’re saying. However, our brains are good at filling in the blanks, making it seem as if parrots have said actual 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, who are also known as rose-breasted cockatoos, are intelligent birds. In fact, they’re one of the cleverest cockatoos. They’re not quick as good at talking as sulphur-crested cockatoos, but they’re one of the best cockatoo talkers overall.

While both sexes are good at imitating people’s voices, males seem to be better than females. They’re also able to imitate everyday sounds, such as a whistle, telephone, or the 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. If this means talking, they’ll give it a go.

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 among the best talking birds. Some Goffin cockatoos frequently speak, while others don’t mimic sounds at all. Most can pick up a couple of words, but it all 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 parrot doesn’t develop talking abilities. This is normal. However, if you want a talking parrot, opt for a bird with better mimicking skills.

One positive trait Goffin cockatoos have is that they love to dance. What they lack in talking abilities, they make up for with other entertaining characteristics.

Do Umbrella Cockatoos Talk?

Umbrella cockatoos are friendly birds that 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 physical tricks and putting on a show for their owners.

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. This largely depends on their owner’s training techniques, but it’s also down to the bird’s personality.  

Like some other cockatoos, umbrella cockatoos can be noisy. They use their voices to get their owner’s attention, which can be a problem. That’s why they must be trained from a young age. Their environment must also 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 on training and socializing 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 parrots. They have a gentle temperament and colorful plumage that makes them highly sought-after pets.

They’re also noticeably quieter than other cockatoos. They’re not the most impressive talkers, but they can mimic basic words. However, they prefer to copy whistles and alarm sounds, which they find easier to imitate.

Even though they don’t talk much, they’re quiet throughout most of the day. This makes them ideal pets for apartments or owners who don’t necessarily have the time and patience to teach them to speak.

Do Moluccan Cockatoos Talk?

Moluccan cockatoos aren’t the best talkers, but they will try to learn basic words. They’re also not very softly spoken – they tend to yell the words instead of saying them.

More often than talking, though, they screech and scream for attention, which can be painful to listen to. They also do it for no apparent reason, making them unsuitable apartment pets.

Do Cockatiels Talk?

Cockatiels are one of the quieter parrots. While they’re capable of talking, they don’t have the extensive vocabulary of other birds. However, you can teach them to say things like “hello” and “pretty bird.” Keep the syllables to a minimum to make the words easier for your cockatiel to learn.

The average age for cockatiels to talk is around eight months. The quicker you start, the easier it’ll be for your cockatiel to learn slightly more complicated phrases.

Male cockatiels tend to speak more than females. Cockatiels learn best through repetition, so you must repeat the same words over and over until they remember them. As well as mimicking words, they:

  • Coo
  • Call
  • Whistle
  • Chirp

Overall, cockatiels are full of personality and vocalize their thoughts and feelings through several sounds.

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 age do cockatoos start talking?

What Other Sounds Do Cockatoos Make?

Cockatoos don’t only talk. They make a range of sounds that the not-so-talented talkers use to display their emotions. In some cases, you’ll hear your parrot make these sounds at the same time as talking as they attempt to mimic them. These sounds include:

Whistling

Cockatoos make melodic whistling sounds, which they copy from their owners. This is an excellent way to communicate with your parrot. You can also use whistling 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.

The good news is that mimicking is the sound of a happy, relaxed bird that knows danger’s not nearby. Some cockatoos whistle when they’re 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. This indicates danger’s nearby. Some cockatoos screech and squawk every day, which can be difficult for owners to bear. Unfortunately, this is a natural part of your bird’s communication repertoire, so you shouldn’t try to discourage it.

Some cockatoos squawk and screech just before they go to bed. Umbrella, Moluccan, and Goffin’s cockatoos are more prone to doing this than other cockatoo species. However, other species will do so if they’re naturally nervous and scared.

Singing

If you frequently have the TV or radio on around your cockatoo, it’s likely to sing by copying the songs and sounds it hears. This can help your parrot learn basic words and phrases while you train your cockatoo to mimic. Singing is similar to talking and signifies when your bird’s in a happy, chirpy mood.

Scientific American describes how captive cockatoos can sing lower notes than smaller pet birds, helping them accurately mimic human speech.

Hissing

When cockatoos hiss, it’s not an upbeat sound, as they only do so when they’re threatened. This is the step before biting, so be careful not to provoke your bird. Cockatoos also hiss because of:

  • 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, try to address whatever’s bothering it to make your parrot feel more comfortable.

Calling

Cockatoos call out to find their flock mates. Their call is unique to the group, allowing them to locate each other more easily. 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 parrot at ease and treat it to some affection. Ignoring your parrot is terrible for its mental health and wellbeing.

You might find that your cockatoo doesn’t speak at all. Just because it belongs to a species that’s supposed to talk well, your bird might not be up to it. Keep trying with repetitive training techniques, but don’t force your bird if it seems distressed or uncomfortable.