Parrots are one of the few animals that can learn and understand human language. While some other birds can mimic a few human sounds, parrots can imitate human speech better than all other creatures.
While some parrots have advanced mimicking abilities that allow them to vocalize human words and phrases, they’re unlikely to understand the meanings behind them. However, when owners regularly interact with their parrots through speech, parrots may gain a contextual understanding of when these words and phrases are uttered. Communication is vital for wild flock parrots, so captive parrots talk to their owners because they see them as part of their flock.
While we want to believe that parrots understand what we say, how much of our language they can decipher depends on their owner’s interaction with it. If owners don’t spend time teaching their parrot basic human words and phrases, they will develop a repertoire of sounds it thinks that it hears. Therefore, they won’t be very accurate.
Do Parrots Understand What We Say?
It’s unlikely that parrots can understand human words. However, they may recognize the context in which we say them.
For example, if an owner says, “Hello” as they walk into a room, the parrot is likely to say it back because it recognizes that they make this sound when entering a room. However, there’s no context behind the word, and parrots don’t actually know what “Hello” means.
Similarly, when an appliance, such as a microwave or oven, beeps, humans tend to rush to it. Therefore, parrots treat the beeping sound in the same way as a human word. The “beep” itself has no contextual meaning, but parrots understand that the sound draws their owner’s attention.
Therefore, it’s up to owners to spend time nurturing their parrot’s talking ability by engaging in regular conversation. That way, parrots may gain some contextual understanding of the sounds their owners use most regularly.
Do Parrots Understand English?
Parrots aren’t quite advanced enough to distinguish between our languages. They learn the languages of their owners, but they don’t understand what the words and phrases mean, regardless of what language they’re in.
While it might sound like parrots understand English, they’re simply making words that sound very similar to the words and phrases we use. In many cases, our brains fill in the blanks, fooling us into thinking our parrot has said a word when really it’s made a gibberish sound.
That being said, intelligent parrots have mimicry skills that are so advanced, their sounds are an authentic replica of the word.
Can Parrots Hold A Conversation?
Parrots can hold conversations in a loose sense. While they likely don’t understand precisely what they’re saying, they can vocalize enough words and phrases for us to be able to hold a conversation with them. But as we’ve already mentioned, this is only possible when their owners engage in regular conversation.
However, in the wild, parrots hold conversations with their flock by creating unique songs. That’s so they can recognize each other. They also learn languages in a similar way to humans.
Therefore, making human sounds is a way for parrots to communicate with you and can be considered a type of conversation. By making human sounds back to your parrot, you’re accepting that you are a part of your bird’s flock.
How Do Parrots Vocalize Human Speech?
Parrots are vocal learners. They grasp sounds by imitating them. A PLOS One study describes how the parrot brain is unique, as it contains 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.
While researchers haven’t figured out how this shell system works, they believe that it holds the key to their expert mimicking abilities.
Parrots learn human words because they’re ingrained to fit in. In the wild, parrots vocalize essential information with their flock. They also use sounds to fit in. Joining a flock provides protection from predators and allows parrots to forage for food together, 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 into it by mimicking words and phrases.
Similarly, parrots make sounds by modifying the air that flows over the syrinx. This is a fluid-filled cavity within the spinal cord or brain stem. It’s known as the vocal organ of birds and is located at the base of the parrot’s trachea.
Parrots use their tongue to create vibrations that pass through the syrinx, reproducing the sounds they hear to make a sound. Because they don’t have vocal cords, they don’t “talk” as such, but they mimic the sounds of human speech.
How Do Parrots Remember Words?
Scientists believe that parrots have memories that are just as good as ours. They have brain areas that work in a similar way to the human cortex. That’s because they have high neuron densities and advanced cognitive functions, which basically means that parrots have excellent memories.
It’s also been found that parrots can remember situations, people, and other parrots throughout their lifetime. Unfortunately, this also means they can remember abusive situations, which causes stress and symptoms of PTSD.
Therefore, parrots use their advanced memories to learn and distinguish words and phrases. They then store that information for a significant period of time until they decide to use it.
Do Parrots Understand What They’re Saying?
Many owners believe that their pets respond to the things they say with comprehension, especially when they specifically respond to a question they’ve been asked. Parrots are intelligent creatures, and there are many instances where parrots seem to understand the words they’re saying.
A study by 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 whether the parrot responded using the correct answers to its owner’s questions.
After carrying out various tests, they discovered that many of the parrot’s vocalizations were specific to the context.
During the study, the parrot’s repertoire was found to consist of 278 different units ranging from one to eight words. Some vocalizations were non-word sounds. 219 of the units used were English speech units. Phrases included:
- “Cosmo go up.”
- “Cosmo wanna go up.”
- “Okay go up.”
- “Wanna go up.”
Even more impressively, 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 also be able to understand the context of what they’re saying. However, in most cases, parrots may be able to associate some words to their context but not complex meanings. Because they’re attuned to the context in which we use phrases, parrots 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 simply mimicking something it hears its owner said. The parrot is, unfortunately, not interested in its owner’s welfare.
Do Parrots Know Their Names?
The first thing most owners do when acquiring a bird is to give their pet a name. Parrots are unlikely to understand their name without training. However, you can teach parrots to recognize it using the tips below:
- Allow your parrot a few weeks to adjust to its new surroundings, giving it time to feel comfortable and secure.
- Work on forming a strong bond with your parrot, handling it regularly, and practicing easy socialization techniques.
- Find a quiet spot within your home without any distractions to start training your bird. Choose somewhere that doesn’t get much through traffic.
- Have some treats to hand and say your bird’s name a few times, rewarding it each time with a small piece of food.
- Repeat this process as much as you can for 15-20 minutes. Attempt it a few times every day.
- Eventually, your bird will expect a treat every time you say its name. It should also display a sign of understanding, such as a turn of the head.
- After a few weeks, start reducing the number of treats you feed until your bird responds to your name without reinforcement.
One thing to bear in mind is that once you have a name, try to stick to it so that your parrot doesn’t become confused.
Not only can parrots learn their name, but it seems as if wild birds name their babies. As described by The Royal Society Publishing, a team of researchers set up 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 to other birds. They also learned the peeping names of their family in conversation.
A possible explanation for this is that parent parrots name their chicks, giving them a unique identifier. As a result, it’s also possible that parrots understand the names given to them by their human caregivers.
While more research is needed, training your parrot to understand its name using a distinctive, consistent noise, like a peep, can help them recognize it more effectively.
What Are The Best Talking Parrots?
Not all parrots are equal when it comes to their talking abilities. Some never speak a sound, while others have an impressive repertoire of human words and phrases at their disposal.
Therefore, if you’re looking for a pet parrot with excellent mimicking abilities, consider the following species:
African Grey Parrots
African grey parrots are without-doubt the parrot family’s best vocalizers and are famous for their talking abilities. According to Applied Animal Behavior Science, African greys can use English speech in the same way as young children.
Many African grey parrot owners claim that their birds can speak in context and learn vocalizations after only hearing them once or twice. This is likely because of their advanced cognitive and memory abilities.
Not only can they vocalize phrases and commands, but they can recite numbers. They typically develop their mimicking abilities at around the age of one.
After African greys, Amazon parrots are advanced talkers. Throughout their lifetime, they can learn between 100 to 120 words.
They also pick up and learn different dialects. When they swap regions after migration, they pick up the local twang. Some say their speech is actually clearer than African grey parrots.
In particular, yellow-naped Amazon parrots are known for being the best singers of human songs. They’re also the best chatters amongst all Amazon parrots.
Though they’re only small in stature, budgies are able to learn a wide variety of words and phrases. They’re also one of the most common captive parrots. However, the sounds budgies make are relatively low and gravelly and can therefore be difficult to understand.
That being said, budgies are social, interactive birds that enjoy practicing their new-found words and phrases with their owners.
Amazingly, Puck, the budgie, holds 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. While this is impressive, most budgies have a broad range of around 120 to 500 words.
Even if your parrot doesn’t quite understand what you’re saying, regularly interacting with them through speech and sound is an excellent way to bond. By doing this, you’re also recognizing that you’re part of the same flock, improving your chances of being life-long friends.