Parrots are among the few birds that can learn words and mimic human language.
Parrots don’t understand the meaning of human words. However, parrots may gain a contextual understanding if we regularly talk to and interact with them.
Parrots have advanced mimicking abilities, so they can vocalize words, sentences, and phrases.
Communication is vital for wild flock parrots, so captive birds vocalize and talk to their owners because they see them as part of their flock.
While we want to believe that parrots understand what humans say, how much of our language they can decipher is the subject of much debate.
Do Parrots Understand What We Say?
It’s unlikely that parrots can understand human words, but they may recognize the context.
For example, if an owner says hello as they walk into a room, the parrot will likely say it back because it recognizes that they make this sound when entering a room.
However, the word has no context, and parrots don’t know what hello means.
Similarly, when an appliance, such as a microwave or oven, beeps, humans rush to it. Therefore, parrots treat the beeping sound the same as a human word.
The beep has no contextual meaning, but parrots understand that the sound gets attention.
So, it’s up to owners to spend time nurturing their parrot’s talking ability by engaging in conversation. That way, parrots gain a contextual understanding of the sounds we regularly use.
Do Parrots Understand English?
Parrots aren’t advanced enough to distinguish between languages like English, French, and Spanish. They learn the languages of their owners, but they don’t understand what the words and phrases mean.
While it might sound like parrots understand English, they’re just making similar-sounding words.
Our brains fill in the blanks, fooling us into thinking that a parrot has said a word when it’s made a gibberish sound. Parrots have advanced mimicry skills that can sound authentic.
Can Parrots Hold A Conversation?
Parrots can hold conversations in a loose sense. While they don’t understand what they’re saying, they can vocalize enough words and phrases for us to converse with them.
Wild parrots hold conversations with their flock by creating unique songs so that they can recognize each other. They also learn languages in a similar way to humans.
Therefore, making human sounds allows parrots to communicate with us. By returning human sounds to the parrot, you accept that you’re a part of its flock.
How Do Parrots Vocalize Human Speech?
Parrots are vocal learners, grasping sounds by imitating them. Parrots’ brains are unique in that they have a song system within a song system.
The core song system is the same as songbirds and hummingbirds, but the shell is exclusive to parrots.
Parrots vocalize information with their flock using sounds to fit in. Joining a flock protects parrots from predators and allows them to forage for food, giving them a better chance of survival.
As a result, pet parrots imitate human sounds because they see owners as their flock. That means they integrate by mimicking words and phrases.
Parrots make sounds by modifying the air that flows over the syrinx. This is the vocal organ of birds, located at the base of the trachea.
Parrots use their tongue to create vibrations that pass through the syrinx, reproducing the sounds they hear to make a sound. As parrots don’t have vocal cords, they mimic human speech.
How Do Parrots Remember Words?
Scientists believe that parrots have memories that are as good as humans.
They have brain areas that work similarly to the human cortex because they have high neuron densities and advanced cognitive functions, which means parrots have excellent memories.
It’s also been found that parrots can remember situations, people, and other parrots. Therefore, parrots use their advanced memories to learn and distinguish between words and phrases.
Do Parrots Understand What They’re Saying?
Many owners believe their pet parrots respond to what they say with comprehension, especially when they specifically respond to a question they’ve been asked.
Parrots are intelligent, and there are instances where they seem to understand the words they’re saying.
The Journal of Comparative Psychology examined Cosmo, a pet Congo African grey parrot, to see how her speech and non-word sounds changed with social context. Researchers wanted to determine if the parrot responded using the correct answers to questions.
After various tests, they found that many vocalizations were specific to the context. During the study, the parrot’s repertoire consisted of 278 units ranging from 1-8 words. Some vocalizations were non-word sounds, and 219 of the units used were English speech units. Phrases included:
- “Cosmo, go up.”
- “Cosmo wanna go up.”
- “Okay, go up.”
- “Wanna go up.”
Cosmo uttered some phrases with their correct grammar structure, such as, “We’re gonna go for a walk.” Similarly, whenever Cosmo’s owner wasn’t in the room, she would say things like, “I’m here” and “Where are you?” These phrases suggest that Cosmo grasped the concept behind the things she said.
As a result, other parrots may understand the context of what they’re saying. However, in most cases, parrots may associate some words with their context but not complex meanings.
Because parrots are attuned to the context in which we use phrases, they fool people with what they say.
For example, if a parrot were to say, “How are you?” every time its owner walks into the room, it’s just mimicking something said by the owner.
Do Parrots Know Their Names?
The first thing most owners do when acquiring a bird is to give their parrot a name.
Parrots are unlikely to understand their name without training. However, you can teach parrots to recognize it using the tips below:
- Allow the parrot time to adjust to its surroundings to feel comfortable and secure.
- Work on forming a strong bond with the parrot, handling it, and practicing socialization techniques.
- Find a quiet spot to start training the parrot.
- Have some treats to hand and say the parrot’s name a few times, rewarding it with food.
- Repeat this process frequently for 15-20 minutes. Attempt it several times daily.
- Eventually, your parrot will expect a treat every time you say its name. After a few weeks, reduce the number of treats you feed until the bird responds to its name without reinforcement.
Once you have a name, avoid changing it to prevent confusion.
Not only can parrots learn their name, but it seems as if wild birds name their babies. As The Royal Society Publishing reported, researchers put video cameras and sound recorders inside and outside several nests containing newly-hatched green-rumped parrots.
After listening to their vocalizations, the team found that the chicks used specific peeps to identify themselves from other birds. They also learned the peeping names of their family in conversation.
A possible explanation is that parent parrots name their chicks, giving them a unique identifier. As a result, parrots may understand the names humans give them.
What Are The Best Talking Parrots?
Some parrots never talk, while others have an impressive repertoire of human words and phrases. With training, here are some funny things parrots can say.
If you’re looking for a pet parrot with good mimicking abilities, consider the following species:
African Grey Parrots
African grey parrots are the parrot family’s best vocalizers and are famous for their talking abilities. Applied Animal Behavior Science said that African greys speak English like young children.
Many owners claim their birds can speak in context and learn vocalizations after hearing them once or twice, likely due to their advanced cognitive and memory abilities.
Not only can they vocalize phrases and commands, but they can recite numbers. They usually develop their mimicking abilities at around the age of one.
Amazon parrots are advanced talkers that can learn 100 to 120 words.
They also learn different dialects. When they swap regions after migration, they pick up the local twang. Some owners claim their speech is clearer than African grey parrots.
In particular, yellow-naped Amazon parrots are among the most accomplished singers of human songs and the best chatterers of all Amazon parrots.
Budgies are social, interactive birds that enjoy practicing new words and phrases with their owners.
They can learn various words and phrases. However, the sounds budgies make are relatively low, gravelly, and difficult to understand.
Puck, the budgie, has the Guinness world record for holding the most extensive vocabulary out of all birds and was acknowledged as having a repertoire of 1,728 words.
Even if a parrot doesn’t understand what you’re saying, regularly interacting with them through speech is a great way to bond. By doing this, the parrot will consider you part of its flock.